The current novel coronavirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic will likely strain Canada’s health care system beyond capacity, and many people are expected to die as a result. In this article, we review the challenges involved in providing palliative care in a pandemic.
Background: The number of medical undergraduate and postgraduate students completing palliative care clinical rotations in Canadian medical schools is currently unknown. The aim of this study was to assess the proportion of Canadian medical trainees completing clinical rotations in palliative care and to determine whether changes took place between 2008 and 2018.
Methods: In this descriptive study, all Canadian medical schools (n = 17) were invited to provide data at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels (2007/08–2015/16 and 2007/08–2017/18, respectively). Information collected included the number, type and length of palliative care clinical rotations offered and the total number of medical trainees or residents enrolled at each school.
Results: All 17 Canadian medical schools responded to the request for information. At the undergraduate level, palliative care clinical rotations were not offered in 2 schools, mandatory in 2 and optional in 13. Three schools that offered optional rotations were unable to provide complete data and were therefore excluded from further analyses. In 2015/16, only 29.7% of undergraduate medical students completed palliative care clinical rotations, yet this was a significant improvement compared to 2011/12 (13.6%, p = 0.02). At the postgraduate level, on average, 57.9% of family medicine trainees completed such rotations between 2007/08 and 2016/17. During the same period, palliative care clinical rotations were completed by trainees in specialty or subspecialty programs in anesthesiology (34.2%), geriatric medicine (64.4%), internal medicine (30.9%), neurology (28.2%) and psychiatry (64.5%).
Interpretation: Between 2008 and 2018, a large proportion of Canadian medical trainees graduated without the benefit of a clinical rotation in palliative care. Without dedicated clinical exposure to palliative care, many physicians will enter practice without vital palliative care competencies.
Palliative care may be an opportunity to discuss cancer family history and familial cancer risks with patients' relatives. It may also represent the last opportunity to collect, from dying patients, clinical data and biospecimens that will inform cancer risk assessment and prevention in their surviving relatives. This study aims to explore the perspectives of cancer patients' relatives about cancer heritability, addressing cancer family history, and performing genetic testing in palliative care settings. Thirteen first-degree relatives of cancer patients who died in palliative care participated in the study. Two focus groups were conducted and transcribed verbatim. Two independent coders conducted a thematic content analysis. The themes included: (1) Knowledge of cancer heritability; (2) Experiences and expectations regarding cancer family history discussions, and (3) Views on genetic testing in palliative care patients and DNA biobanking. Participants seemed aware that cancer family history is a potential risk factor for developing the disease. They considered the palliative care period an inappropriate moment to discuss cancer heritability. They also did not consider palliative care providers as appropriate resources to consult for such matters as they are not specialized in this field. Participants welcomed DNA biobanking and genetic testing conducted at the palliative care patients' request. Cancer occurrence within families raises concerns among relatives about cancer heritability, but the palliative care period is not considered the most appropriate moment to address this issue. However, discussions about the risk to cancer patients' relatives might need to be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Cancer family history is not systematically assessed during the cancer care trajectory. Palliative care may emerge as the last opportunity for health professionals to collect, from dying cancer patients, family history and biological samples that could inform relatives’ cancer risk assessment and management. At-risk relatives can then be offered genetic counseling and testing and preventive strategies if needed. Discussions on cancer heritability between patients, family members, and providers may become more frequent in palliative care due to increasing public awareness about advances in genomics and risks associated with a cancer family history.
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OBJECTIVE: With increasing evidence from controlled trials on benefits of early palliative care, there is a need for studies examining implementation in real-world settings. The INTEGRATE Project was a 3-year real-world project that promoted early identification and support of patients with cancer who may benefit from palliative care. This study assesses feasibility, stakeholder experiences, and early impact of the INTEGRATE Project
METHODS: The INTEGRATE Project was implemented in four cancer centres in Ontario, Canada, and consisted of interdisciplinary provider education and an integrated care model. Providers used the Surprise Question to identify patients for inclusion. A mixed methods evaluation of INTEGRATE was conducted using descriptive data, interviews with providers and managers, and provider surveys.
RESULTS: A total of 760 patients with cancer (lung, glioblastoma, head and neck, gastrointestinal) were included. Results suggest improvement in provider confidence to deliver palliative care and to initiate the Advanced Care Planning (ACP) conversation. The majority of patients (85%) had an ACP or goals of care (GOC) conversation initiated within a mean time to conversation of 5-46 days (SD 20-93) across centres. A primary care report was transmitted to family doctors 48-100% of the time within a mean time to transmission of 7-54 days (SD 9-27) across centres. Enablers and barriers influencing success of the model were also identified.
CONCLUSIONS: A standardized model for the early introduction of palliative care for patients with cancer can be integrated into the routine practice of oncology providers, with appropriate education, integration into existing clinical workflows, and administrative support.
OBJECTIVE: To explore the extent to which family health clinics in Ontario and the eastern regions of the province of Quebec provide palliative care.
DESIGN: A cross-sectional survey.
SETTING: Ontario and the eastern regions of Quebec.
PARTICIPANTS: The clinic leads of a select group of family health clinics with patient enrolment models in Ontario and the eastern regions of Quebec.
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: The types of palliative care services that the clinics provide, as well as the enablers of and barriers to providing palliative care within the 2 provinces.
RESULTS: The overall response rate was 32%. Clinics in both provinces reported providing palliative care to ambulatory patients (83% of Ontario clinics and 74% of Quebec clinics). Only 29 of 102 (28%) Ontario clinics provided on-call services themselves, compared with 31 of 34 (91%) Quebec clinics, with the resulting effect being that more patients were directed to emergency departments in Ontario. Access to palliative care specialist teams for support was higher in Ontario than in Quebec (67% vs 41%, respectively). In Ontario, 56% of practices indicated that they had access to palliative care physicians who could take over the care of their patients with palliative care needs, but a lower number (44%) actually handed over care to these physicians.
CONCLUSION: A group of clinics are providing full palliative care services to their own patients with palliative care needs, including "on-call" services and home visits, and these serve as role models. In Ontario in particular, substantial gaps still exist with respect to clinics providing their own after-hours coverage and home visits; many rely on other services to provide that care. In Quebec, lack of access to palliative care specialist teams appears to be a key challenge in the areas included in this survey. This survey could help policy makers and funders of health care services ensure that appropriate conditions are put in place for optimal palliative care provision in these clinics, such as coordinating access to on-call coverage and support from palliative care specialist teams, as well as providing education to all physicians and adequate remuneration.
Addressing the concerns of end-of-life patients or their relatives about their family history of cancer could benefit patients and family members. Little is known about how palliative care providers respond to these concerns. The purpose of this pilot study was to assess palliative care providers' knowledge about familial and hereditary cancers and explore their exposure to patients' and relatives' concerns about their family history of cancer, and their self-perceived ability to deal with such concerns. A cross-sectional survey was conducted in the Quebec City (Canada) catchment area among palliative care professionals. Fifty-eight palliative care professionals working in hospice, home care and hospital-based palliative care units completed the questionnaire. All physicians and 63% of nurses occasionally addressed concerns of patients and relatives about their family history of cancer, but they reported a low confidence level in responding to such concerns. They also showed knowledge gaps in defining features of a significant family history of cancer, and most (78%) would welcome specific training on the matter. Our findings highlight the relevance of offering education and training opportunities about familial cancers and associated risks to palliative care providers. The needs and concerns of end-of-life patients and their families need to be explored to ensure palliative care providers can adequately assist patients and their relatives about their family history of cancer. Ethical implications should be considered.