Objectives: Research suggests that clinicians are not very accurate at prognosticating in palliative care. The ‘horizon effect’ suggests that accuracy ought to be better when the survival of patients is shorter. The aim of this study was to determine the accuracy of specialist palliative care clinicians at identifying which patients are likely to die within 72 hours.
Design In a secondary data analysis of a prospective observational study, specialist palliative care doctors and nurses (in a hospice and a hospital palliative care team) provided survival predictions (yes/no/uncertain) about which patients would die within 72 hours.
Results: Survival predictions were obtained for 49 patients. A prediction from a nurse was obtained for 37/49 patients. A prediction from a doctor was obtained for 46/49 patients. In total, 23 (47%)/49 patients actually died within 72 hours of assessment. Nurses accurately predicted the outcome in 27 (73%)/37 cases. Doctors accurately predicted the outcome in 30 (65%)/46 cases. When comparing predictions given on the same patients (27 [55%]/49), nurses were slightly better at recognising imminent death than doctors (positive predictive value (the proportion of patients who died when the clinician predicted death)=79% vs 60%, respectively). The difference in c-statistics (nurses 0.82 vs doctors 0.63) was not significant (p=0.13).
Conclusion: Even when patients are in the terminal phase and close to death, clinicians are not very good at predicting how much longer they will survive. Further research is warranted to improve prognostication in this population.
OPINION STATEMENT: Patients with advanced cancer and their families commonly seek information about prognosis to aid decision-making in medical (e.g. surrounding treatment), psychological (e.g. saying goodbye), and social (e.g. getting affairs in order) domains. Oncologists therefore have a responsibility to identify and address these requests by formulating and sensitively communicating information about prognosis. Current evidence suggests that clinician predictions are correlated with actual survival but tend to be overestimations. In an attempt to cultivate prognostic skills, it is recommended that clinicians practice formulating and recording subjective estimates of prognosis in advanced cancer patient's medical notes. When possible, a multi-professional prognostic estimate should be sought as these may be more accurate than individual predictions alone. Clinicians may consider auditing the accuracy of their predictions periodically and using feedback from this process to improve their prognostic skills.Clinicians may also consider using validated prognostic tools to complement their clinical judgements. However, there is currently only limited evidence about the comparative accuracy of different prognostic tools or the extent to which these measures are superior to clinical judgement. Oncologists and palliative care physicians should ensure that they receive adequate training in advanced communication skills, which builds upon their pre-existing skills, to sensitively deliver information on prognosis. In particular, clinicians should acknowledge their own prognostic uncertainty and should emphasise the supportive care that can continue to be provided after stopping cancer-directed therapies.
Objectives: Impending death is poorly recognised. Many undergraduate healthcare professionals will not have experience of meeting or caring for someone who is dying. As death can occur in any setting, at any time, it is vital that all healthcare students, regardless of the setting they go on to work in, have end-of-life care (EOLC) training. The aim was to determine current palliative care training at the undergraduate level, in multiple professions, in recognising and communicating dying.
Methods: Current UK undergraduate courses in medicine, adult nursing, occupational therapy, social work and physiotherapy were included. All courses received an email asking what training is currently offered in the recognition and communication of dying, and what time was dedicated to this.
Results: A total of 73/198 (37%) courses responded to the request for information. 18/20 medical courses provided training in recognising when patients were dying (median 2 hours), and 17/20 provided training in the communication of dying (median 3 hours). 80% (43/54) of nursing and allied health professional courses provided some training in EOLC. Many of the course organisers expressed frustration at the lack of resources, funding and time to include more training. Those courses with more palliative care provision often had a ‘champion’ to advocate for it.
Conclusions: Training in EOLC was inconsistent across courses and professions. Further research is needed to understand how to remove the barriers identified and to improve the consistency of current training.
Background: Recognising dying is a key clinical skill for doctors, yet there is little training.
Aim: To assess the effectiveness of an online training resource designed to enhance medical students’ ability to recognise dying.
Design: online multicentre double-blind randomised controlled trial (NCT03360812). The training resource for the intervention group was developed from a group of expert palliative care doctors’ weightings of various signs/symptoms to recognise dying. The control group received no training.
Setting/participants: Participants were senior UK medical students. They reviewed 92 patient summaries and provided a probability of death within 72 hours (0% certain survival – 100% certain death) pre, post, and 2 weeks after the training. Primary outcome: (1) Mean Absolute Difference (MAD) score between participants’ and the experts’ scores, immediately post intervention. Secondary outcomes: (2) weight attributed to each factor, (3) learning effect and (4) level of expertise (Cochran–Weiss–Shanteau (CWS)).
Results: Out of 168 participants, 135 completed the trial (80%); 66 received the intervention (49%). After using the training resource, the intervention group had better agreement with the experts in their survival estimates (dMAD = -3.43, 95% CI -0.11 to -0.34, p = <0.001) and weighting of clinical factors. There was no learning effect of the MAD scores at the 2-week time point (dMAD = 1.50, 95% CI -0.87 to 3.86, p = 0.21). At the 2-week time point, the intervention group was statistically more expert in their decision-making versus controls (intervention CWS = 146.04 (SD 140.21), control CWS = 110.75 (SD 104.05); p = 0.01).
Conclusion: The online training resource proved effective in altering the decision-making of medical students to agree more with expert decision-making.
Objectives The aims of this study were (1) to document the clinical condition of patients considered to be in the last 2 weeks of life and (2) to compare patients who did or did not survive for 72 hours.
Design A prospective observational study.
Setting Two sites in London, UK (a hospice and a hospital palliative care team).
Participants Any inpatient, over 18 years old, English speaking, who was identified by the palliative care team as at risk of dying within the next 2 weeks was eligible.
Outcome measures Prognostic signs and symptoms were documented at a one off assessment and patients were followed up 7 days later to determine whether or not they had died.
Results Fifty participants were recruited and 24/50 (48%) died within 72 hours of assessment. The most prevalent prognostic features observed were a decrease in oral food intake (60%) and a rapid decline of the participant’s global health status (56%). Participants who died within 72 hours had a lower level of consciousness and had more care needs than those who lived longer. A large portion of data was unavailable, particularly that relating to the psychological and spiritual well-being of the patient, due to the decreased consciousness of the patient.
Conclusions The prevalence of prognostic signs and symptoms in the final days of life has been documented between those predicted to die and those who did not. How doctors make decisions with missing information is an area for future research, in addition to understanding the best way to use the available information to make more accurate predictions.
An accurate prognosis about how long a terminally ill patient has left to live, when disclosed sensitively in open discussions, can facilitate patient-centred care and shared decision making. In addition, several guidelines, policies and funding streams rely, to some extent, on a clinician estimated prognosis. However, clinician predictions alone have been shown to be unreliable and over-optimistic. The factors underlying clinicians' prognostic decisions (particularly at the very end of life) are beginning to be elucidated. As an alternative to clinicians' subjective estimates, a number of prognostic algorithms and scores have been developed and validated, but only a few have consistently shown superiority to clinician predictions. Therefore, an element of uncertainty remains and this needs to be acknowledged when having conversations with patients and their families. Guidelines are available to advise clinicians about how to prepare for, participate in and record prognostic conversations.
OBJECTIVES: To determine the accuracy of predictions of dying at different cut-off thresholds and to acknowledge the extent of clinical uncertainty.
DESIGN: Secondary analysis of data from a prospective cohort study.
SETTING: An online prognostic test, accessible by eligible participants across the UK.
PARTICIPANTS: Eligible participants were members of the Association of Palliative Medicine. 99/166 completed the test (60%), resulting in 1980 estimates (99 participants × 20 summaries).
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: The probability of death occurring within 72 hours (0% certain survival-100% certain death) for 20 patient summaries. The estimates were analysed using five different thresholds: 50/50%, 40/60%, 30/70%, 20/80% and 10/90%, with percentage values between these extremes being regarded as 'indeterminate'. The positive predictive value (PPV), negative predictive value (NPV) and the number of indeterminate cases were calculated for each cut-off.
RESULTS: Using a <50% versus >50% threshold produced a PPV of 62%, an NPV of 74% and 5% indeterminate cases. When the threshold was changed to =10% vs =90%, the PPV and NPV increased to 75% and 88%, respectively, at the expense of an increase of indeterminate cases up to 62%.
CONCLUSION: When doctors assign a very high (=90%) or very low (=10%) probability of imminent death, their prognostic accuracy is improved; however, this increases the number of ‘indeterminate’ cases. This suggests that clinical predictions may continue to have a role for routine prognostication but that other approaches (such as the use of prognostic scores) may be required for those cases where doctors’ estimates are indeterminate.
BACKGROUND: The Surprise Question (SQ) "would I be surprised if this patient were to die in the next 12 months?" has been suggested to help clinicians, and especially General Practitioners (GPs), identify people who might benefit from palliative care. The prognostic accuracy of this approach is unclear and little is known about how GPs use this tool in practice. Are GPs consistent, individually and as a group? Are there international differences in the use of the tool? Does including the alternative Surprise Question ("Would I be surprised if the patient were still alive after 12 months?") alter the response? What is the impact on the treatment plan in response to the SQ? This study aims to address these questions.
METHODS: An online study will be completed by 600 (100 per country) registered GPs. They will be asked to review 20 hypothetical patient vignettes. For each vignette they will be asked to provide a response to the following four questions: (1) the SQ [Yes/No]; (2) the alternative SQ [Yes/No]; (3) the percentage probability of dying [0% no chance - 100% certain death]; and (4) the proposed treatment plan [multiple choice]. A "surprise threshold" for each participant will be calculated by comparing the responses to the SQ with the probability estimates of death. We will use linear regression to explore any differences in thresholds between countries and other clinician-related factors, such as years of experience. We will describe the actions taken by the clinicians and explore the differences between groups. We will also investigate the relationship between the alternative SQ and the other responses. Participants will receive a certificate of completion and the option to receive feedback on their performance.
DISCUSSION: This study explores the extent to which the SQ is consistently used at an individual, group, and national level. The findings of this study will help to understand the clinical value of using the SQ in routine practice.
OBJECTIVES: To identify a group of palliative care doctors who perform well on a prognostic test and to understand how they make their survival predictions.
DESIGN: Prospective observational study and two cross-sectional online studies.
SETTING: Phase I: an online prognostic test, developed from a prospective observational study of patients referred to palliative care. Phase II: an online judgement task consisting of 50 hypothetical vignettes.
PARTICIPANTS: All members of the Association of Palliative Medicine (APM) were eligible (n=~1100). 99 doctors completed the prognostic test and were included in the phase I analysis. The top 20% were invited to participate in phase II; 14/19 doctors completed the judgement task and were included in the phase II analysis.
MEASURES: Phase I: participants were asked to give a probability of death within 72 hours (0%–100%) for all 20 cases. Accuracy on the prognostic test was measured with the Brier score which was used to identify the ‘expert’ group (scale range: 0 (expert)–1 (non-expert)). Phase II: participants gave a probability of death within 72 hours (0%–100%). A mixed model regression analysis was completed using the percentage estimate as the outcome and the patient information included in the vignettes as the predictors.
RESULTS: The mean Brier score of all participants was 0.237 (95% CI 0.235 to 0.239). The mean Brier score of the ‘experts’ was 0.184 (95% CI 0.176 to 0.192). Six of the seven prognostic variables included in the hypothetical vignettes were significantly associated with clinician predictions of death. The Palliative Performance Score was identified as being the most influential in the doctors’ prognostic decision making (ß=0.48, p<0.001).
CONCLUSIONS: This study identified six clinical signs and symptoms which influenced the judgement policies of palliative care doctors. These results may be used to teach novice doctors how to improve their prognostic skills.
BACKGROUND: Clinicians are inaccurate at predicting survival. The "Surprise Question" (SQ) is a screening tool that aims to identify people nearing the end of life. Potentially, its routine use could help identify patients who might benefit from palliative care services. The objective was to assess the accuracy of the SQ by time scale, clinician, and speciality.
METHODS: Searches were completed on Medline, Embase, CINAHL, AMED, Science Citation Index, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Open Grey literature (all from inception to November 2016). Studies were included if they reported the SQ and were written in English. Quality was assessed using the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale.
RESULTS: A total of 26 papers were included in the review, of which 22 reported a complete data set. There were 25,718 predictions of survival made in response to the SQ. The c-statistic of the SQ ranged from 0.512 to 0.822. In the meta-analysis, the pooled accuracy level was 74.8% (95% CI 68.6–80.5). There was a negligible difference in timescale of the SQ. Doctors appeared to be more accurate than nurses at recognising people in the last year of life (c-statistic = 0.735 vs. 0.688), and the SQ seemed more accurate in an oncology setting 76.1% (95% CI 69.7–86.3).
CONCLUSIONS: There was a wide degree of accuracy, from poor to reasonable, reported across studies using the SQ. Further work investigating how the SQ could be used alongside other prognostic tools to increase the identification of people who would benefit from palliative care is warranted.