Context: Evidence-based resource allocation is receiving increasing attention as we strive for equity, transparency, and cost-effectiveness across health care. In the context of finite resources, which of our patients with terminal illness should be prioritized for urgent palliative care?
Objectives: To develop the scoring system for the novel Responding to Urgency of Need in Palliative Care triage tool.
Methods: Online international discrete choice experiment involving palliative care clinicians to establish the relative importance of seven key attributes of palliative care triage identified during an earlier qualitative study.
Results: Participants (n = 772) were mainly female (79.9%) with a decade of clinical experience. All attributes contributed significantly (all P-values < 0.001) and independently to clinician assessment of urgency. This study found physical suffering (coefficient 3.45; 95% confidence interval: 3.24 to 3.66) was the most important determinant of urgency, followed by imminent dying (coefficient 1.56; 1.43 to 1.69), psychological suffering (coefficient 1.49; 1.37 to 1.60), caregiver distress (coefficient 1.47; 1.35 to 1.59), discrepancy between care needs and care arrangements (coefficient 1.14; 1.02 to 1.26), mismatch between current and desired site of care (coefficient 0.94; 0.85 to 1.03), and unmet communication needs (coefficient 0.84; 0.76 to 0.92).
Conclusion: Palliative care triage, which is complex and contextual, has been made more transparent through this discrete choice experiment. The Responding to Urgency of Need in Palliative Care triage tool provides an important step toward evidence-based assessment of priority for palliative care. Further research is underway to determine the validity of the tool in clinical practice and its impact on patient and caregiver outcomes.
Background: Data quality is fundamental to the integrity of quantitative research. The role of external researchers in data quality assessment (DQA) remains ill-defined in the context of secondary use for research of large, centrally curated health datasets. In order to investigate equity of palliative care provided to Indigenous Australian patients, researchers accessed a now-historical version of a national palliative care dataset developed primarily for the purpose of continuous quality improvement.
Objectives: (i) To apply a generic DQA framework to the dataset and (ii) to report the process and results of this assessment and examine the consequences for conducting the research.
Method: The data were systematically examined for completeness, consistency and credibility. Data quality issues relevant to the Indigenous identifier and framing of research questions were of particular interest.
Results: The dataset comprised 477,518 records of 144,951 patients (Indigenous N = 1515; missing Indigenous identifier N = 4998) collected from participating specialist palliative care services during a period (1 January 2010–30 June 2015) in which data-checking systems underwent substantial upgrades. Progressive improvement in completeness of data over the study period was evident. The data were error-free with respect to many credibility and consistency checks, with anomalies detected reported to data managers. As the proportion of missing values remained substantial for some clinical care variables, multiple imputation procedures were used in subsequent analyses.
Conclusion and implications: In secondary use of large curated datasets, DQA by external researchers may both influence proposed analytical methods and contribute to improvement of data curation processes through feedback to data managers.
Background: General practitioners’ (GPs) play a central role in facilitating end-of-life discussions with older patients nearing the end-of-life. However, prognostic uncertainty of time to death is one important barrier to initiation of these discussions.
Objective: To explore GPs’ perceptions of the feasibility and acceptability of a risk prediction checklist to identify older patients in their last 12 months of life and describe perceived barriers and facilitators for implementing end-of-life planning.
Methods: Qualitative, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 15 GPs practising in metropolitan locations in New South Wales and Queensland between May and June 2019. Data were analysed thematically.
Results: Eight themes emerged: accessibility and implementation of the checklist, uncertainty around checklist’s accuracy and usefulness, time of the checklist, checklist as a potential prompt for end-of-life conversations, end-of-life conversations not an easy topic, end-of-life conversation requires time and effort, uncertainty in identifying end-of-life patients and limited community literacy on end-of-life. Most participants welcomed a risk prediction checklist in routine practice if assured of its accuracy in identifying which patients were nearing end-of-life.
Conclusions: Most participating GPs saw the value in risk assessment and end-of-life planning. Many emphasized the need for appropriate support, tools and funding for prognostic screening and end-of-life planning for this to become routine in general practice. Well validated risk prediction tools are needed to increase clinician confidence in identifying risk of death to support end-of-life care planning.
Purpose: This research explored the role of Australian Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) to identify SLP experiences and practices regarding adult palliative care (PC) management.
Method: Utilising mixed methods, phase one comprised a literature scoping review of SLP practices in PC. Phase two involved a survey compiling demographic data of Australian SLPs working in adult PC. Phase three involved in-depth interviews exploring SLP experiences in PC.
Result: It was found that minimal resources or published literature existed regarding SLPs in PC, however the available literature indicated SLPs can be valuable and influential members of a PC team. Interviewed SLPs acknowledged their proficiency in end-of-life communication and swallowing, nevertheless initially they felt ill-prepared given insufficient knowledge or skills to manage palliative cases based upon their tertiary education and were poorly supported once in the field given a lack of clinical practice guidelines (CPGs). Participants also noted a lack of knowledge among medical, nursing and allied health clinicians about a SLP's contribution to PC, causing barriers for SLPs being professionally accepted within palliative environments.
Conclusion: Recommendations included the development of improved resources specifically about SLP practice in end-of-life care, the need for greater exposure at the tertiary level of SLP palliative care practices, and CPGs for SLPs working in adult palliative care.
OBJECTIVES: Despite growing interest in frailty as a significant public health challenge, comparatively little is known about how older adults perceive and experience frailty, limiting the effectiveness of strategies to improve frailty management and prevention. The objective of this study was to understand how older people, including frail older persons in residential aged care, perceive and understand frailty through an interpretive-descriptive qualitative study.
SETTING: Aged care facility, community-based university for older persons and an aged care auxiliary care group in a large metropolitan centre in South Australia.
PARTICIPANTS: 39 non-frail, prefrail, frail and very frail South Australian older adults.
METHODS: Seven focus groups were conducted. Participants completed one of two frailty instruments depending on setting and indicated whether they self-identified as frail. Data were analysed inductively and thematically by two independent investigators.
RESULTS: Frailty was described according to three schemas of (1) the old and frail: a static state near the end of life; (2) frailty at any age: a disability model; and (3) frailty as a loss of independence: control, actions and identity. In addition, a theme was identifying linking mindset, cognition and emotion to frailty. The term frailty was viewed negatively and was often implicated with personal choice. There was little correlation between frailty assessments and whether participants self-identified as frail.
CONCLUSIONS: Aside from a disability model, views of frailty as unmodifiable permeated older persons' diverse perspectives on frailty and are likely to impact health behaviours. To our knowledge, this is among the largest qualitative studies examining consumer perceptions of frailty and contributes a clinically relevant schema linking age, prevention and modifiability from a consumer perspective.
BACKGROUND: A developing body of evidence has provided valuable insight into the experiences of caregivers of people with motor neuron disease; however, understandings of how best to support caregivers remain limited.
AIM: This study sought to understand concepts related to the motor neuron disease caregiver experience which could inform the development of supportive interventions.
DESIGN: A qualitative thematic analysis of a one-off semistructured interview with caregivers was undertaken.
SETTING/PARTICIPANTS: Caregivers of people with motor neuron disease were recruited from a progressive neurological diseases clinic in Melbourne, Australia.
RESULTS: 15 caregivers participated. Three key themes were identified: (1) The Thief: the experience of loss and grief across varied facets of life; (2) The Labyrinth: finding ways to address ever changing challenges as the disease progressed; (3) Defying fate: being resilient and hopeful as caregivers tried to make the most of the time remaining.
CONCLUSIONS: Caregivers are in need of more guidance and support to cope with experiences of loss and to adapt to changeable care giving duties associated with disease progression. Therapeutic interventions which target these experiences of loss and change are worth investigation.
TRIAL REGISTRATION NUMBER: ACTRN12615000120572, pre-results.
BACKGROUND: Complex social and ethical debates about voluntary assisted dying (euthanasia), palliative care, and advance care planning are presently being worked through in many developed countries, and the policy implications of these discussions for palliative care are potentially very significant. However, community attitudes to death and dying are complex, multilayered, and contain many mixed messages.
METHODS: Participants posted comments in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on death and dying, entitled Dying2Learn. This provided an opportunity to explore societal and personal attitudes to wishes and beliefs around death and dying. For one activity in the MOOC, participants responded to a question asking them about "the best way to go".
RESULTS: Responses were subjected to thematic analysis, during which they were coded for conceptual categories. This analysis showed how acceptance of death as a natural and normal process, and as a shared event that affects a whole social network, may nonetheless be accompanied by deep reluctance to address the physical process of dying (i.e., "avoidant acceptance").
CONCLUSIONS: Our findings highlighted a desire for choice and control in relation to dying, which is a common element in discussions of both advance care planning and palliative care. This same focus may contribute to a perception that voluntary assisted dying/euthanasia is a necessary strategy for ensuring that people have control over their dying process. We discuss the paradox of individuals wanting to have control whilst preferring not to know that they are dying.
Background: There is a lack of studies examining the prevalence and severity of psychosocial distress in parents caring for a child with life-limiting condition. More research is also needed to better understand the experience, support needs and quality-of-life of this population.
Aim: To describe the experience and support needs of caring for children with life-limiting conditions and examine the level of distress and quality-of-life experienced by parents.
Design: Cross-sectional, prospective, quantitative study guided by an advisory group. Participants completed a survey that included demographics and self-report outcome measures of unmet support needs, appraisal of caregiving, psychological distress and quality-of-life. Bivariate correlation analyses were performed to examine for associations between measures.
Setting/participants: Parents currently caring for one or more children (<=18 years) with a life-limiting condition and registered with a paediatric palliative care service (Australia).
Results: In total, 143 parents (88% female) completed the questionnaire (36% RR). Compared with population norms, participants reported low quality-of-life, high carer burden and high psychological distress. Almost half (47%) of the sample met the criteria for one or more diagnoses of clinically elevated stress, anxiety or depression. There were significant associations between the psychosocial outcome variables; carer strain and depression had the strongest correlations with quality-of-life (r = –.63, p < .001, for both). Participants also reported multiple unmet needs related to emotional and practical support.
Conclusions: This study contributes to the growing body of evidence on paediatric palliative care, specifically that parents caring for a child with a life-limiting condition report high levels of distress and burden, low quality-of-life and need more emotional and practical support targeted at their unmet needs. Paediatric palliative care services should routinely assess parent mental health and provide appropriate support.
A challenge in end-of-life care is requests by patients or their substitute decision-makers for treatment that doctors consider is "futile" or "non-beneficial". Concerns that these concepts are uncertain and subjective have led to calls for medical policies to clarify terminology and to provide procedural solutions to prevent and address disputes. This article provides a comprehensive analysis of how Australian medical guidelines and policies on withholding or withdrawing potentially life-sustaining treatment address futility. It demonstrates that while the concept is found throughout medical policies and guidelines, the terminology employed is inconsistent. There is also variability in the extent of guidance given about unilateral decision-making and mechanisms for dispute resolution. This is problematic, given that the question of further treatment can often only be determined in relation to the individual patient's goals and values. We conclude by advocating for the development of a unified policy approach to futile or non-beneficial treatment in Australia.
AIMS AND OBJECTIVES: The proposed study aimed to answer the following question: What communication issues do nurses find challenging when caring for people with life-limiting illness?
BACKGROUND: Evidence suggests that attitudes, skills and knowledge about how nurses communicate effectively with patients and their families could be improved. However, the literature predominantly focuses on nurses working in oncology and the medical profession.
DESIGN: A qualitative descriptive design was used.
METHODS: Focus groups were conducted with 39 nurses from three wards within a regional healthcare organisation in Victoria, Australia. Data were analysed using thematic content analysis. The COREQ checklist was used to document reporting of the study.
RESULTS: In their view, nurses have the potential to develop a strong bond with patients and their families. Three key themes were identified: (a) feeling unskilled to have difficult conversations with patients who have life-limiting illness; (b) interacting with family members adds complexity to care of patients who have life-limiting illness; and (c) organisational factors impede nurses' capacity to have meaningful conversations with patients and their families.
CONCLUSIONS: Caring for individuals with life-limiting illness is complex and often occurs in an emotionally charged environment. However, nurses report being hampered by time restraints and lack of information about the patient's condition and goals of care. Limitations in conversation structure and a comprehensive range of core communication skills affect their ability to confidently engage in conversations, particularly when they are responding to prognostic questions.
RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE: Whilst nurses are responsible for performing technical skills, they can maximise care by developing a trusting relationship with patients and their relatives. Increased acuity limits the time nurses have to talk with patients. In addition, they lack confidence to deal with difficult questions. Specific training may increase nurses' confidence and efficiency when communicating with patients and their families.
The law has a clear role to play in supporting patients and their substitute decision-makers (SDMs) to be involved in end-of-life (EOL) decision-making. Although existing literature suggests that knowledge of EOL law is variable among health professionals, there is little information about the extent and sources of such knowledge within the general community. A telephone survey of a representative sample of adults in three Australian States used six case scenarios to examine the extent to which adults know their legal duties, rights and powers as patients or SDMs; the sources from which people derive relevant legal knowledge; experiences of EOL decision-making; and individual characteristics associated with levels of knowledge. The results show considerable variation in levels of legal knowledge dependent primarily of the area of decision-making presented, some sizeable gaps in people's knowledge of EOL law, and varied awareness of how to access appropriate information on this subject. This study points to the need to increase community legal literacy around EOL decision-making, enhance awareness of the role of law in these circumstances and promote the availability of reliable and accessible information on the law at the time when it is needed.
On June 19, 2019, euthanasia legislation in Victoria, Australia, came into effect. The Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 (Vic) allows individuals whose life expectancy is 6 months or less to seek medical assistance to end their life. Patients with certain progressive neurodegenerative conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or motor neuron disease, can apply within 1 year of their expected death. People with conditions that might hinder their decision-making capacity, such as advanced Alzheimer's disease, are excluded, as are people who have a mental illness or disability, without a terminal illness. By Dec 31, 2019, 52 people had voluntarily ended their lives using the new legislation.
Recent reports highlight an inconsistent provision of palliative and end-of-life (palliative) care across Australia, particularly in regional, rural and remote areas. Palliative care improves quality of life and the experience of dying, and all people should have equitable access to quality needs-based care as they approach and reach the end of their lives. A palliative approach to care is crucial in rural and remote Australia where there is a reliance for such care on generalist providers amid the challenges of a limited workforce, poorer access, and vast geography. This article describes the development and implementation of the Far West NSW Palliative and End-of-Life Model of Care, a systematic solution that could drive improvement in the provision of a quality palliative approach to care and support from any clinician in a timely manner, for patients, their families and carers anywhere.
Background: For most people, the last 12 months of life are spent living in the community, with the support of family and friends for a number of caregiving functions. Previous research has found that managing medicines is challenging for caregivers. Currently there is little information describing which caregivers may struggle with tasks associated with managing a loved one's medicines.
Aim: The aim of this study was to identify factors that flag caregivers who are likely to experience problems when managing someone else's medications.
Setting/Participants: The annual South Australian Health Omnibus Survey provides a face-to-face, cross-sectional, whole-of-population view of health care. Structured interviews, including questions covering palliative care and end-of-life care, were conducted with 14,625 residents in their own homes.
Results: Of the 1068 respondents who had provided care for someone who died of a terminal illness in the last five years, 7.4% identified that additional support with medicine management would have been beneficial. In addition, three factors were predictive of the need for additional support in managing medicines: aged <65 years; lower household income; and living in a metropolitan region.
Conclusion: The findings of this study provide insights to inform the development of palliative care service models to support informal caregivers in the management of medications for people with a life-limiting illness.
BACKGROUND: There are no processes that routinely assess end-of-life care in Australian general practice. This study aimed to develop a data collection process which could collect observational data on end-of-life care from Australian general practitioners (GPs) via a questionnaire and clinical data from general practice software.
METHODS: The data collection process was developed based on a modified Delphi study, then pilot tested with GPs through online surveys across three Australian states and data extraction from general practice software, and finally evaluated through participant interviews.
RESULTS: The developed data collection process consisted of three questionnaires: Basic Practice Descriptors (32 items), Clinical Data Query (32 items) and GP-completed Questionnaire (21 items). Data extraction from general practice software was performed for 97 decedents of 10 GPs and gathered data on prescriptions, investigations and referral patterns. Reports on care of 272 decedents were provided by 63 GPs. The GP-completed Questionnaire achieved a satisfactory level of validity and reliability. Our interviews with 23 participating GPs demonstrated the feasibility and acceptability of this data collection process in Australian general practice.
CONCLUSIONS: The data collection process developed and tested in this study is feasible and acceptable for Australian GPs, and comprehensively covers the major components of end-of-life care. Future studies could develop an automated data extraction tool to reduce the time and recall burden for GPs. These findings will help build a nationwide integrated information network for primary end-of-life care in Australia.
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: The therapeutic landscape in medical oncology continues to expand significantly. Newer therapies, especially immunotherapy, offer the hope of profound and durable responses with more tolerable side effect profiles. Integrating this information into the decision making process is challenging for patients and oncologists. Systemic anticancer treatment within the last thirty days of life is a key quality of care indicator and is one parameter used in the assessment of aggressiveness of care.
Methods: A retrospective review of medical records of all patients previously treated at Goulburn Valley Health oncology department who died between 1 January 2015 and 30 June 2018 was conducted. Information collected related to patient demographics, diagnosis, treatment, and hospital care within the last 30 days of life. These results were presented to the cancer services meeting and a quality improvement intervention program was instituted. A second retrospective review of medical records of all patients who died between 1 July 2018 and 31 December 2018 was conducted in order to measure the effect of this intervention.
Results: The initial audit period comprised 440 patients. 120 patients (27%) received treatment within the last 30 days of life. The re-audit period comprised 75 patients. 19 patients (25%) received treatment within the last 30 days of life. Treatment rates of chemotherapy reduced after the intervention in contrast to treatment rates of immunotherapy which increased. A separate analysis calculated the rate of mortality within 30 days of chemotherapy from the total number of patients who received chemotherapy was initially 8% and 2% in the re-audit period. Treatment within the last 30 days of life was associated with higher use of aggressive care such as emergency department presentation, hospitalisation, ICU admission and late hospice referral. Palliative care referral rates improved after the intervention.
Conclusion: This audit demonstrated that a quality improvement intervention can impact quality of care indicators with reductions in the use of chemotherapy within the last 30 days of life. However, immunotherapy use increased which may be explained by increased access and a better risk benefit balance.
OBJECTIVE: The objective of this study is to map the existent research undertaken in Australia into broad thematic areas and identify the characteristics of the studies and areas of future research in the literature.
METHODS: A scoping review methodology was employed to map the current areas of research undertaken in Australia since January 2000 until the end of December 2018 according to years of publications, types of studies, populations studied, research themes, and areas of focus.
RESULTS: Our review identified 1,405 Australian palliative care research publications between January 2000 and December 2018. Nearly 40% of the studies were quantitative (39%) and a third were qualitative studies (31%). The remainder of the studies were reviews, mixed methods, quality improvement projects, and others. One-third (30%) of the research was done with carers' participants followed by nurses (22%) and doctors and physicians (18%). The most frequently reported diagnosis in the studies was cancer with 42% of the publication total. The most frequently explored theme was physical symptoms (such as pain, breathlessness, nausea, delirium, and dyspnea) with a total of 16% of all articles followed by communication (15%). There was a large gap to the next most frequently explored theme with service delivery (9%) and coordination of care (8%). Assessment of patients (7%), end-of-life decision-making (6%), and rural/regional (6%) all produced a similar number of publications. Very few studies addressed topics such as quality of life, E-Health, after-hours care, spirituality, and health economics. Moreover, there were only 15 (1%) studies focused on the last days of life.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE RESULTS: The current review presented a comprehensive search of the literature across almost two decades in Australia in the palliative care setting. It has covered a breadth of research topics and highlighted urgent areas for further research.
Our choice for care at the end of our lives is constrained by many factors, including the options available to us, our capacity to choose and the social structures that constrain our options and therefore our choices. Working with the interaction between personal agency and social constraints is a core public health activity. An intentional public health approach to palliative and end-of-life care can elucidate the direct relationship between our social circumstances and the quality of our end of life and uncover the implications of structural inequity for end-of-life choice. The approach reorients systems and settings to achieve accessible and equitable palliative and end of-life care for all, and identifies contributions that all jurisdictions, settings, organisations, sectors and communities can make to improving end-of-life care outcomes. Frameworks that support this shift in practice and policy are however in their infancy. Implementation frameworks that can structure and guide ‘how’ to translate public health palliative care concepts into sustainable practice are needed. This paper reports on an evidence-based Australian public health palliative care framework designed to achieve this.