Purpose: Lack of appreciation of cultural differences may compromise care for seriously ill minority patients, yet culturally appropriate models of palliative care (PC) are not currently available in the United States. Rural patients with life-limiting illness are at high risk of not receiving PC. Developing a PC model that considers the cultural preferences of rural African Americans (AAs) and White (W) citizens is crucial. The goal of this study was to develop and determine the feasibility of implementing a culturally based PC tele-consult program for rural Southern AA and W elders with serious illness and their families, and assess its acceptability to patients, their family members, and clinicians.
Methods: This was a three-phase study conducted in rural Beaufort, South Carolina, from January 2013 to February 2016. We used Community-Based Participatory Research methods, including a Community Advisory Group (CAG) with equal numbers of AA and W members, to guide the study. Phase 1: Cultural values and preferences were determined through ethnic-based focus groups comprising family members (15 W and 16 AA) who had cared for a loved one who died within the past year. We conducted a thematic analysis of focus group transcripts, focused on cultural values and preferences, which was used as the basis for the study protocol. Phase 2: Protocol Development: We created a protocol team of eight CAG members, two researchers, two hospital staff members, and a PC physician. The PC physician explained the standard clinical guidelines for conducting PC consults, and CAG members proposed culturally appropriate programmatic recommendations for their ethnic group for each theme. All recommendations were incorporated into an ethnic-group specific protocol. Phase 3: The culturally based PC protocol was implemented by the PC physician via telehealth in the local hospital. We enrolled patients age =65 with a life-limiting illness who had a family caregiver referred by a hospitalist to receive the PC consult. To assess feasibility of program delivery, including its acceptability to patients, caregivers, and hospital staff, using Donebedian's Structure-Process-Outcome model, we measured patient/caregiver satisfaction with the culturally based consult by using an adaptation of FAMCARE-2.
Results: Phase 1: Themes between W and AA were (1) equivalent: for example, disrespectful treatment of patients and family by hospital physicians; (2) similar but with variation: for example, although religion and church were important to both groups, and pastors in both ethnic groups helped family face the reality of end of life, AA considered the church unreservedly central to every aspect of life; (3) divergent, for example, AAs strongly believed that hope and miracles were always a possibility and that God was the decider, a theme not present in the W group. Phase 2: We incorporated ethnic group-specific recommendations for the culturally based PC consult into the standard PC consult. Phase 3: We tested feasibility and acceptability of the ethnically specific PC consult on 18 of 32 eligible patients. The telehealth system worked well. PC MD implementation fidelity was 98%. Most patients were non-verbal and could not rate satisfaction with consult; however, caregivers were satisfied or very satisfied. Hospital leadership supported program implementation, but hospitalists only referred 18 out of 28 eligible patients.
Conclusions: The first culturally based PC consult program in the United States was developed in partnership with AA and W Southern rural community members. This program was feasible to implement in a small rural hospital but low referral by hospitalists was the major obstacle. Program effectiveness is currently being tested in a randomized clinical trial in three southern, rural states in partnership with hospitalists. This method can serve as a model that can be replicated and adapted to other settings and with other ethnic groups.