Context: Clinicians deciding whether to refer a patient or family to specialty palliative care report facing high levels of uncertainty. Most research on medical uncertainty has focused on prognostic uncertainty. As part of a pediatric palliative referral intervention for oncology teams we explored how uncertainty might influence palliative care referrals.
Objectives: To describe distinct meanings of the term “uncertainty” that emerged during the qualitative evaluation of the development and implementation of an intervention to help oncologists overcome barriers to palliative care referrals.
Methods: We conducted a phenomenological qualitative analysis of “uncertainty” as experienced and described by interdisciplinary pediatric oncology team members in discussions, group activities and semistructured interviews regarding the introduction of palliative care.
Results: We found that clinicians caring for patients with advanced cancer confront seven broad categories of uncertainty: prognostic, informational, individual, communication, relational, collegial, and inter-institutional. Each of these kinds of uncertainty can contribute to delays in referring patients to palliative care.
Conclusion: Various types of uncertainty arise in the care of pediatric patients with advanced cancer. To manage these forms of uncertainty, providers need to develop strategies and techniques to handle professionally challenging situations, communicate bad news, manage difficult interactions with families and colleagues, and collaborate with other organizations.
BACKGROUND: Despite evidence that referral to pediatric palliative care reduces suffering and improves quality of life for patients and families, many clinicians delay referral until the end of life. The purpose of this article is to provide a conceptual model for why clinical teams delay discussing palliative care with parents.
DISCUSSION: Building on a prior model of parent regoaling and relevant research literature, we argue for a conceptual model of the challenges and facilitators a clinical team might face in shifting from a restorative-focused treatment plan to a plan that includes palliative aspects, resulting in a subspecialty palliative care referral. Like patients and families, clinicians and clinical teams may recognize that a seriously ill patient would benefit from palliative care and shift from a restorative mindset to a palliative approach. We call this transition "clinician regoaling". Clinicians may experience inhibitors and facilitators to this transition at both the individual and team level which influence the clinicians' willingness to consult subspecialty palliative care. The 8 inhibitors to team level regoaling include: 1) team challenges due to hierarchy, 2) avoidance of criticizing colleagues, 3) structural communication challenges, 4) group norms in favor of restorative goals, 5) diffusion of responsibility, 6) inhibited expression of sorrow, 7) lack of social support, 8) reinforcement of labeling and conflict. The 6 facilitators of team regoaling include: 1) processes to build a shared mental model, 2) mutual trust to encourage dissent, 3) anticipating conflict and team problem solving, 4) processes for reevaluation of goals, 5) sharing serious news as a team, 6) team flexibility.
CONCLUSIONS: Recognizing potential team level inhibitors to transitioning to palliative care can help clinicians develop strategies for making the transition more effectively when appropriate.
PURPOSE: Children with advanced cancer are often not referred to palliative or hospice care before they die or are only referred close to the child's death. The goals of the current project were to learn about pediatric oncology team members' perspectives on palliative care, to collaborate with team members to modify and tailor three separate interdisciplinary team-based interventions regarding initiating palliative care, and to assess the feasibility of this collaborative approach.
METHODS: We used a modified version of experience-based codesign (EBCD) involving members of the pediatric palliative care team and three interdisciplinary pediatric oncology teams (Bone Marrow Transplant, Neuro-Oncology, and Solid Tumor) to review and tailor materials for three team-based interventions. Eleven pediatric oncology team members participated in four codesign sessions to discuss their experiences with initiating palliative care and to review the proposed intervention including patient case studies, techniques for managing uncertainty and negative emotions, role ambiguity, system-level barriers, and team communication and collaboration.
RESULTS: The codesign process showed that the participants were strong supporters of palliative care, members of different teams had preferences for different materials that would be appropriate for their teams, and that while participants reported frustration with timing of palliative care, they had difficulty suggesting how to change current practices.
CONCLUSIONS: The current project demonstrated the feasibility of collaborating with pediatric oncology clinicians to develop interventions about introducing palliative care. The procedures and results of this project will be posted online so that other institutions can use them as a model for developing similar interventions appropriate for their needs.
CONTEXT: Pediatric palliative care consults for children with cancer often occur late in the course of disease and close to death, when earlier involvement would reduce suffering. The perceptions that pediatric oncology providers hold about the pediatric palliative care service (PPCS) may shape referral patterns.
OBJECTIVE: To explore how pediatric oncology providers at one institution perceived the hospital's PPCS and the way these perceptions may influence the timing of consultation.
METHODS: We conducted semi-structured qualitative interviews with pediatric oncology providers at a large children's hospital. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed and analyzed by two coders using a modified grounded theory approach.
RESULTS: We interviewed 16 providers (10 physicians, 1 nurse practitioner, 2 social workers, 2 psychologists and 1 child life specialist). Three core perceptions emerged: (1) the PPCS offers a diverse range of valuable contributions to the care of children with advancing cancer; (2) providers held favorable opinions about the PPCS due to positive interactions with individual palliative care specialists deemed extraordinarily emotionally skilled; and (3) there is considerable emotional labor involved in calling a PPCS consult that serves as a barrier to early initiation.
CONCLUSION: The pediatric oncology providers in our study held a highly favorable opinion about their institution's PPCS and agreed that early consultation is ideal. However, they also described that formally consulting PPCS is extremely difficult because of what the PPCS symbolizes to families and the emotional labor that the provider must manage in introducing them. Interventions to encourage the early initiation of palliative care in this population may benefit from a focus on the emotional experiences of providers.