BACKGROUND: Some patients do not receive adequate pain and symptom relief at the end of life, causing distress to patients, families and healthcare professionals. It is unclear whether undertreatment of symptoms occurs, in part, because of nurses' concerns about legal and/or disciplinary repercussions if the patient dies after medication is administered.
AIM: The aim was to explore nurses' experiences and knowledge of the law relating to the provision of end-of-life pain and symptom relief.
DESIGN: Semi-structured interviews with nurses were assessed using a six-stage hybrid thematic analysis technique.
SETTING/PARTICIPANTS: Four face-to-face and 21 telephone interviews were conducted with nurses who routinely prescribed and/or administered pain and symptom relief to patients approaching the end of their lives in Queensland and New South Wales, Australia.
RESULTS: While many nurses had no personal experiences with legal or professional repercussions after a patient had died, the fear of hastening death and being held accountable was frequently discussed and regarded as relevant to the provision of inadequate pain and symptom relief. Concerns included potential civil or criminal liability and losing one's job, registration or reputation. Two-thirds of participants believed that pain relief was sometimes withheld because of these legal concerns. Less than half of the interviewed nurses demonstrated knowledge of the doctrine of double effect, the legal protection for health professionals who provide end-of-life pain and symptom relief.
CONCLUSION: Education is urgently required to strengthen nurses' knowledge of the legal protections supporting the provision of appropriate palliative medication, thereby improving their clinical practice with end-of-life patients.
BACKGROUND: It is often suggested that terminally ill patients favour end-of-life care at home. Yet, it is unclear how these preferences are formed, if the process is similar for patients and family caregivers, and if there are discrepancies between preferences for place of care and place of death. Understanding these nuances is essential to support people in their decision-making and ultimately provide better care at the end-of-life.
AIM: To gain an in-depth understanding of how terminally ill patients and their family caregivers make decisions about preferred place of care and place of death.
DESIGN: Semi-structured interviews with patients and family caregivers, which were analysed thematically using qualitative description.
SETTING/PARTICIPANTS: A total of 17 participants (8 patients and 9 caregivers) recruited from an acute palliative care hospital ward, a sub-acute hospice unit, and a palliative homecare organisation in Melbourne, Australia.
RESULTS: The process of forming location preferences was shaped by uncertainty relating to the illness, the caregiver and the services. Patients and caregivers dealt with this uncertainty on a level of thoughts, emotions, and actions. At the end of this process, patients and caregivers expressed their choices as contextual, personal, relational, conditional and flexible preferences.
CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that in many cases end-of-life decision-making does not conclude with a clear and stable choice. Understanding the reasons for the malleability of preferences and the process of how they are formed has implications for both clinicians and researchers.
As healthcare systems worldwide are confronted with increasing numbers of aging patients and those living with life-limiting illnesses, the topic of where people want to spend their last days has received considerable attention. However, the strategies that researchers and clinicians use to capture these end-of-life views vary greatly in four key questions. These include: what, how, when and who to ask about location preferences. We will argue that how researchers and clinicians choose to answer these questions directly influences their findings. Based on these considerations, we will highlight ways to improve future palliative care and empirical end-of-life studies by addressing the precision, methods, timing and sources of preference assessments. Only when we are able to accurately identify where people want to spend their last days, can we begin to meet the needs of patients as they approach the final stage of their lives.