BACKGROUND: Medical Assistance in Dying comprises interventions that can be provided by medical practitioners to cause death of a person at their request if they meet predefined criteria. In June 2016, Medical Assistance in Dying became legal in Canada, sparking intense debate in the palliative care community.
AIM: This study aims to explore the experience of frontline palliative care providers about the impact of Medical Assistance in Dying on palliative care practice.
DESIGN: Qualitative descriptive design using semi-structured interviews and thematic analysis.
SETTINGS/PARTICIPANTS: We interviewed palliative care physicians and nurses who practiced in settings where patients could access Medical Assistance in Dying for at least 6 months before and after its legalization. Purposeful sampling was used to recruit participants with diverse personal views and experiences with assisted death. Conceptual saturation was achieved after interviewing 23 palliative care providers (13 physicians and 10 nurses) in Southern Ontario.
RESULTS: Themes identified included a new dying experience with assisted death; challenges with symptom control; challenges with communication; impact on palliative care providers personally and on their relationships with patients; and consumption of palliative care resources to support assisted death.
CONCLUSION: Medical Assistance in Dying has had a profound impact on palliative care providers and their practice. Communication training with access to resources for ethical decision-making and a review of legislation may help address new challenges. Further research is needed to understand palliative care provider distress around Medical Assistance in Dying, and additional resources are necessary to support palliative care delivery.
PURPOSE: Young adults (YAs; defined as 18-39 years of age) with advanced cancer are a group for whom standardized age-appropriate palliative care has not been established. The purpose of this study was to explore the YA experience and perceptions of palliative care in an outpatient interdisciplinary palliative care clinic for this population.
PATIENTS AND METHODS: Using an interpretive descriptive design, semistructured interviews were conducted with 12 YAs with advanced cancer who were being seen jointly by a palliative care physician and psychiatrist in an ambulatory palliative care clinic. Interviews explored participants' understanding and experiences of receiving palliative care. Six family members were also interviewed to build on the YA experience. Data collection and analysis occurred concurrently, drawing on the constructivist grounded theory method to analyze the data.
RESULTS: Participants described being referred to and seen in the interdisciplinary palliative care clinic as a conflicting and at times difficult experience because of the feeling of being categorized as palliative as YAs. Even so, there were key aspects associated with the specific palliative care approach that allowed YAs to cope with this new label, leading to a beneficial experience, specifically: provided YAs with time and space to explore the experience of having cancer at a younger age, created repeat opportunities to talk openly with people who "got it," and highlighted the importance of including family support in the care of YAs.
CONCLUSION: YAs who were referred to the interdisciplinary palliative care clinic struggled with the category of palliative care but also found the care they received beneficial. Findings provide an approach to palliative care tailored to YAs with advanced cancer.
The lack of integration between public health approaches, cancer care and palliative and end-of-life care in the majority of health systems globally became strikingly evident in the context of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. At the same time, the collapse of the boundaries between these domains imposed by the pandemic created unique opportunities for intersectoral planning and collaboration. While the challenge of integration is not unique to oncology, the organisation of cancer care and its linkages to palliative care and to global health may allow it to be a demonstration model for how the problem of integration can be addressed. Before the pandemic, the large majority of individuals with cancer in need of palliative care in low- and middle-income countries and the poor or marginalised in high-income countries were denied access. This inequity was highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, as individuals in impoverished or population-dense settings with weak health systems have been more likely to become infected and to have less access to medical care and to palliative and end-of-life care. Such inequities deserve attention by government, financial institutions and decision makers in health care. However, there has been no framework in most countries for integrated decision-making that takes into account the requirements of public health, clinical medicine and palliative and end-of-life care. Integrated planning across these domains at all levels would allow for more coordinated resource allocation and better preparedness for the inevitability of future systemic threats to population health.
Background: Although outpatient palliative care clinics (OPCCs) provide a venue for early, pre-emptive referral to palliative care on a routine basis, some patients will continue to require urgent referrals. The purpose of this study was to characterise these urgent referrals to determine whether they reflect clinical need or convenience.
Methods: We retrospectively compared new patients in an OPCC who were seen urgently versus those seen at routine appointments. Descriptive statistics compared the two groups in terms of clinical characteristics, referring teams, symptoms, performance status and outcomes. Logistic regression was used to identify factors associated with urgent referral to the OPCC. Overall survival was compared using the log-rank test.
Results: Between January 2016 and December 2017, a total of 113 urgent referrals were reviewed in the OPCC; these were compared with a random sample of 217 routine referrals. Patients seen urgently were more likely to be referred by surgical oncology, and to report worse symptom scores for pain (p=0.0007), tiredness (p=0.02), well-being (p=0.001), constipation (p=0.02) and sleep (p=0.01). More patients seen urgently required direct admission to hospital following the visit (17.7% vs 0.9%, p<0.001). Median survival was shorter for patients seen urgently (4.3 months, 95% CI 3.4 to 7.8) versus routinely (8.1 months, 95% CI 7.2 to 9.5).
Conclusions: Compared with routine referrals, new patients seen urgently in the OPCC had higher symptom burden, shorter median survival and a greater chance of direct admission to hospital. Palliative care clinics should consider how best to accommodate urgent referrals.
PURPOSE: Adolescents and young adults (AYAs; age 15-39 years) with advanced cancer are a population in whom quality of life is uniquely affected because of their stage of life. However, training focused on palliative care for AYAs is not routinely provided for health care providers (HCPs) in oncology. This study aims to explore the experiences of HCPs involved in introducing and providing palliative care caring for AYAs with advanced cancer and their families to understand the unique challenges HCPs experience.
METHODS: Using a qualitative descriptive design, semistructured interviews were conducted with medical and radiation oncologists, palliative care physicians, psychiatrists, and advanced practice nurses involved in caring for AYAs diagnosed with advanced cancer (N = 19). Interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using thematic analysis in combination with constant comparative analysis and theoretical sampling.
RESULTS: There were 19 participants, 9 men and 10 women, with a median age of 45 years (range, 24-67 years). Six were palliative care physicians, 5 medical oncologists, 4 nurse practitioners, and 2 each radiation oncologists and psychiatrists. Overall, participants perceived the provision of palliative care for AYAs to be more difficult compared with older adults. Four themes emerged: (1) challenges helping AYAs/families to engage in and accept palliative care, (2) uncertainty regarding how to involve the family, (3) HCP sense of tragedy, and (4) HCP sense of emotional proximity.
CONCLUSION: Findings from this study support the development of dedicated training for HCPs involved in palliative care for AYA.
BACKGROUND: Although the effectiveness of early palliative care for patients with advanced cancer has been demonstrated in several trials, there has been no detailed published description of an early palliative care intervention.
METHOD: In this paper, we delineate the iterative conception and systematic evaluation of a complex intervention called team-based outpatient early palliative care (TO-EPC), and describe the components of the intervention. The intervention was developed based on palliative care theory, review of previous palliative care interventions and practice guidelines. We conducted feasibility testing and piloting of TO-EPC in a phase 2 trial, followed by evaluation in a large cluster randomised trial and qualitative research with patients and caregivers. The qualitative research informed the iterative refinement of the intervention.
RESULTS: Four principles and four domains of care constitute a conceptual framework for TO-EPC. The main domains of care are: coping and support, symptom control, decision-making and future planning. The main principles are that care is flexible, attentive, patient-led and family-centred. The most prominent domain for the initial consultation is coping and support; follow-up visits focus on symptom control, decision-making to maximise quality of life and future planning according to patient readiness. Key tasks are described in relation to each domain.
CONCLUSION: The description of our intervention may assist palliative care teams seeking to implement it, researchers wishing to replicate or build on it and oncologists hoping to adapt it for their patients.
CONTEXT: Performance status measures are increasingly completed by patients in outpatient cancer settings but are not well validated for this use.
OBJECTIVES: We assessed performance of a patient-reported functional status measure (PRFS, based on the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG)), compared to the physician-completed ECOG, in terms of agreement in ratings and prediction of survival.
METHODS: Patients and physicians independently completed 5-point PRFS (lay version of ECOG) and ECOG measures on first consultation at an Oncology Palliative Care Clinic. We assessed agreement between PRFS and ECOG using weighted Kappa statistics, and used linear regression to determine factors associated with the difference between PRFS and ECOG ratings. We used the Kaplan-Meier method to estimate the patients' median survival, categorized by PRFS and ECOG, and assessed predictive accuracy of these measures using the C-statistic.
RESULTS: For the 949 patients, there was moderate agreement between PRFS and ECOG (weighted Kappa 0.32; 95%CI, 0.28-0.36). On average, patients' ratings of performance status were worse by 0.31 points (95%CI: 0.25-0.37, p<0.0001); this tendency was greater for younger patients (p=0.002) and those with worse symptoms (p<0.0001). Both PRFS and ECOG scores correlated well with overall survival; the C-statistic was higher for the average of PRFS and ECOG scores (0.619) than when reported individually (0.596 and 0.604, respectively).
CONCLUSIONS: Patients tend to rate their performance status worse than physicians, particularly if they are younger or have greater symptom burden. Prognostic ability of performance status could be improved by using the average of patients and physician scores.