BACKGROUND: Advance care planning (ACP) supports individuals to define, discuss, and record goals and preferences for future medical treatment and care. Despite being internationally recommended, randomised clinical trials of ACP in patients with advanced cancer are scarce.
METHODS AND FINDINGS: To test the implementation of ACP in patients with advanced cancer, we conducted a cluster-randomised trial in 23 hospitals across Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, Slovenia, and United Kingdom in 2015-2018. Patients with advanced lung (stage III/IV) or colorectal (stage IV) cancer, WHO performance status 0-3, and at least 3 months life expectancy were eligible. The ACTION Respecting Choices ACP intervention as offered to patients in the intervention arm included scripted ACP conversations between patients, family members, and certified facilitators; standardised leaflets; and standardised advance directives. Control patients received care as usual. Main outcome measures were quality of life (operationalised as European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer [EORTC] emotional functioning) and symptoms. Secondary outcomes were coping, patient satisfaction, shared decision-making, patient involvement in decision-making, inclusion of advance directives (ADs) in hospital files, and use of hospital care. In all, 1,117 patients were included (442 intervention; 675 control), and 809 (72%) completed the 12-week questionnaire. Patients' age ranged from 18 to 91 years, with a mean of 66; 39% were female. The mean number of ACP conversations per patient was 1.3. Fidelity was 86%. Sixteen percent of patients found ACP conversations distressing. Mean change in patients' quality of life did not differ between intervention and control groups (T-score -1.8 versus -0.8, p = 0.59), nor did changes in symptoms, coping, patient satisfaction, and shared decision-making. Specialist palliative care (37% versus 27%, p = 0.002) and AD inclusion in hospital files (10% versus 3%, p < 0.001) were more likely in the intervention group. A key limitation of the study is that recruitment rates were lower in intervention than in control hospitals.
CONCLUSIONS: Our results show that quality of life effects were not different between patients who had ACP conversations and those who received usual care. The increased use of specialist palliative care and AD inclusion in hospital files of intervention patients is meaningful and requires further study. Our findings suggest that alternative approaches to support patient-centred end-of-life care in this population are needed.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: ISRCTN registry ISRCTN63110516.
BACKGROUND: GPs have a central role in decisions about prescribing anticipatory medications to help control symptoms at the end of life. Little is known about GPs' decision-making processes in prescribing anticipatory medications, how they discuss this with patients and families, or the subsequent use of prescribed drugs.
AIM: To explore GPs' decision-making processes in the prescribing and use of anticipatory medications for patients at the end of life.
DESIGN AND SETTING: A qualitative interview study with GPs working in one English county.
METHOD: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of 13 GPs. Interview transcripts were analysed inductively using thematic analysis.
RESULTS: Three themes were constructed from the data: something we can do, getting the timing right, and delegating care while retaining responsibility. Anticipatory medications were a tangible intervention GPs felt they could offer patients approaching death (something we can do). The prescribing of anticipatory medications was recognised as a harbinger of death for patients and their families. Nevertheless, GPs preferred to discuss and prescribe anticipatory medications weeks before death was expected whenever possible (getting the timing right). After prescribing medications, GPs relied on nurses to assess when to administer drugs and keep them updated about their use (delegating care while retaining responsibility).
CONCLUSION: GPs view anticipatory medications as key to symptom management for patients at the end of life. The drugs are often presented as a clinical recommendation to ensure patients and families accept the prescription. GPs need regular access to nurses and rely on their skills to administer drugs appropriately. Patients' and families' experiences of anticipatory medications, and their preferences for involvement in decision making, warrant urgent investigation.
Background: Anticipatory prescribing (AP) of injectable medications in advance of clinical need is established practice in community end-of-life care. Changes to prescribing guidelines and practice have been reported during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Aims and objectives: To investigate UK and Ireland clinicians’ experiences concerning changes in AP during the COVID-19 pandemic and their recommendations for change.
Methods: Online survey of participants at previous AP national workshops, members of the Association for Palliative Medicine of Great Britain and Ireland and other professional organisations, with snowball sampling.
Results: Two hundred and sixty-one replies were received between 9 and 19 April 2020 from clinicians in community, hospice and hospital settings across all areas of the UK and Ireland. Changes to AP local guidance and practice were reported: route of administration (47%), drugs prescribed (38%), total quantities prescribed (35%), doses and ranges (29%). Concerns over shortages of nurses and doctors to administer subcutaneous injections led 37% to consider drug administration by family or social caregivers, often by buccal, sublingual and transdermal routes. Clinical contact and patient assessment were more often remote via telephone or video (63%). Recommendations for regulatory changes to permit drug repurposing and easier community access were made.
Conclusions: The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic for UK community palliative care has stimulated rapid innovation in AP. The extent to which these are implemented and their clinical efficacy need further examination.
BACKGROUND: The management of medicines towards the end of life can place increasing burdens and responsibilities on patients and families. This has received little attention yet it can be a source of great difficulty and distress patients and families. Dose administration aids can be useful for some patients but there is no evidence for their wide spread use or the implications for their use as patients become increasing unwell. The study aimed to explore how healthcare professionals describe the support they provide for patients to manage medications at home at end of life.
METHODS: Qualitative interview study with thematic analysis. Participants were a purposive sample of 40 community healthcare professionals (including GPs, pharmacists, and specialist palliative care and community nurses) from across two English counties.
RESULTS: Healthcare professionals reported a variety of ways in which they tried to support patients to take medications as prescribed. While the paper presents some solutions and strategies reported by professional respondents it was clear from both professional and patient/family caregiver accounts in the wider study that rather few professionals provided this kind of support. Standard solutions offered included: rationalising the number of medications; providing different formulations; explaining what medications were for and how best to take them. Dose administration aids were also regularly provided, and while useful for some, they posed a number of practical difficulties for palliative care. More challenging circumstances such as substance misuse and memory loss required more innovative strategies such as supporting ways to record medication taking; balancing restricted access to controlled drugs and appropriate pain management and supporting patient choice in medication use.
CONCLUSIONS: The burdens and responsibilities of managing medicines at home for patients approaching the end of life has not been widely recognised or understood. This paper considers some of the strategies reported by professionals in the study, and points to the great potential for a more widely proactive stance in supporting patients and family carers to understand and take their medicines effectively. By adopting tailored, and sometimes, 'outside the box' thinking professionals can identify immediate, simple solutions to the problems patients and families experience with managing medicines.
Doctors, nurses, and family caregivers worldwide are facing tough decisions concerning the supply and administration of medications to manage symptoms when patients are dying from covid-19 or other conditions in the community or care homes. Proposed changes in practice aimed at ensuring adequate end-of-life symptom control need careful consideration alongside appropriate training and support.
Updated UK advice, including NICE rapid guidance on managing covid-19 symptoms in the community, reiterates the importance of prescribing medications in advance of need for pain, nausea and vomiting, agitation, and respiratory secretions. These drugs may be administered if needed by visiting doctors or nurses, as is already well established in some countries. However, this practice is being overhauled radically in response to the pandemic.
In the current ecology of care, social, rather than medical, support is critical in enabling frail older people to live at home. This paper reports findings from a qualitative study about how home care workers (HCWs) support persons with dementia living in the community. Semi-structured qualitative interviews were carried out in England with 14 family care-givers (FCGs) recruited from a single private home care provider. A thematic analysis of the data was undertaken using the constant comparative method. In every instance, it was FCGs who initiated domiciliary care for the person with dementia, highlighting ambiguity about who is the ‘client’. Rather than focusing on the HCWs’ work in undertaking practical tasks and personal care, respondents prioritised HCWs as companions, providing emotional and social support for their relatives. From an organisational perspective, respondents valued the capacity of the provider to deliver a consistent, personal, reliable and punctual service. These attributes were important in supporting their relative's agency and dignity. Respondents described HCWs engaging in skilled and sensitive communication with clients but considered ‘character’ and ‘innate’ caring abilities to be more important than those derived from training. The results highlight the need to acknowledge the family, rather than the individual client, as the functioning unit of care, and to recognise the highly skilled communicative and emotional work undertaken by HCWs.
CONTEXT: Increased life expectancy, technical advances in treatment and symptom control, and the extension of palliative care in community settings not only lengthen life, but make it possible for many patients to be cared for, and to die, at home. Moreover, death increasingly occurs in late old age and after a prolonged period of co-morbidity and/or frailty. This has far reaching consequences for the way that professional services are resourced and organised, and for the informal carers who are often responsible for providing the greater part of patient care, including management of complex medication regimes.
OBJECTIVES: To explore the literature focused on family caregivers' experiences of medications management for patients being cared for and dying at home.
METHODS: This literature review takes a Critical Interpretive Synthesis approach to the review of 15 identified papers.
RESULTS: Findings show that family caregivers can struggle to manage medications for someone who is dying at home, yet there is an expectation that they will take on these roles and they are often judged by professional standards. Five key themes identified particular issues around administration, organisational skills, empowerment, relationships and support.
CONCLUSION: As increasing demands are placed on family caregivers, there remains limited acknowledgement or understanding of the challenges they face, how they cope, or could be best supported. Alongside training, family caregivers need access to 24hrs support and medication reviews to rationalise unnecessary medications. Furthermore, the ethical challenges arising from administering medicines at the end of life also need to be acknowledged and discussed.
This is the second in an occasional series of paired commentaries in Age and Ageing, the Journal of the British Geriatrics Society and the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (JAGS). The aim is to address issues of current significance and to foster dialogue and increased understanding between academics and clinicians working in comparative international settings. Both commentaries address the urgent need to improve palliative care for older people, with a critique of some stereotypes surrounding palliative care and the 'good death'. The companion commentary, published in JAGS, was written by Alexander Smith and Vyjeyanthi Periyakoil, and is grounded in their experience as academic clinicians (Smith AK, Periyakoil V. Should we bury 'The Good Death'? Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 2018; in press). In the present paper, we offer a perspective on the outcome and wider consequences of misalignment between current UK policy and aspirations for end of life care in relation to epidemiological trends and patient experience of death and dying.