Case managers have been introduced in primary palliative care in the Netherlands; these are nurses with expertise in palliative care who offer support to patients and informal carers in addition to the care provided by the general practitioner (GP) and home-care nurse.
To compare cancer patients with and without additional support from a case manager on: 1) the patients’ general characteristics, 2) characteristics of care and support given by the GP, 3) palliative care outcomes.
This article is based on questionnaire data provided by GPs participating in two different studies: the Sentimelc study (280 cancer patients) and the Capalca study (167 cancer patients). The Sentimelc study is a mortality follow-back study amongst a representative sample of GPs that monitors the care provided via GPs to a general population of end-of-life patients. Data from 2011 and 2012 were analysed. The Capalca study is a prospective study investigating the implementation and outcome of the support provided by case managers in primary palliative care. Data were gathered between March 2011 and December 2013.
The GP is more likely to know the preferred place of death (OR 7.06; CI 3.47-14.36), the place of death is more likely to be at the home (OR 2.16; CI 1.33-3.51) and less likely to be the hospital (OR 0.26; CI 0.13-0.52), and there are fewer hospitalisations in the last 30 days of life (none: OR 1.99; CI 1.12-3.56 and one: OR 0.54; CI 0.30-0.96), when cancer patients receive additional support from a case manager compared with patients receiving the standard GP care.
Involvement of a case manager has added value in addition to palliative care provided by the GP, even though the role of the case manager is ‘only’ advisory and he or she does not provide hands-on care or prescribe medication.
Case managers have been introduced in Dutch primary palliative care; these are nurses with expertise in palliative care who offer support to patients and informal carers in addition to the care provided by the general practitioner and home care nurses. This study aims to describe support and investigate what characteristics of patients and the organizational setting are related to the number of contacts and to the number of times topics are discussed between the case manager and patients and/or informal carers.
Prospective study following cancer patients (n = 662) receiving support from a palliative care case manager in Dutch primary care, using registration forms filled out by the case manager after contact with the patient and/or informal carer. In backward linear regression, the association was studied between patient or organizational characteristics and the number of contacts and the number of times conversation topics were discussed.
Organizational characteristics add more to explained variability in data than patient characteristics. Case managers provide support in a flexible manner with regard to the number, mode, persons present, and duration of contacts. Support covered all domains of palliative care, with most attention given to physical complaints, life expectancy and psychological aspects.
Support offered by the case managers is prompted by characteristics of the organization for which they work. This is contradictory to the idea of patient centered care highly valued in palliative care.
Case management; End-of-life care; Palliative care; Primary care; Nursing
Most people prefer to receive end-of-life care in familiar surroundings rather than in hospital. This study examines variation in place of death for people dying from Parkinson’s disease (PD) across 11 European and non-European countries.
Using death certificate data of 2008 for Belgium, France, Italy, Hungary, Czech Republic, New Zealand, USA, Canada, Mexico, South Korea and Spain for all deaths with PD as an underlying cause (ICD-10 code: G20) cross-national differences in place of death were examined. Associations between place of death and patient socio-demographic and regional characteristics were evaluated using multivariable binary logistic regression analyses.
The proportion of deaths in hospital ranged from 17% in the USA to 75% in South Korea. Hospital was the most prevalent place of death in France (40%), Hungary (60%) and South Korea; nursing home in New Zealand (71%), Belgium (52%), USA (50%), Canada (48%) and Czech Republic (44%); home in Mexico (73%), Italy (51%) and Spain (46%). The chances of dying in hospital were consistently higher for men (Belgium, France, Italy, USA, Canada), those younger than 80 years (Belgium, France, Italy, USA, Mexico), and those living in areas with a higher provision of hospital beds (Italy, USA).
In several countries a substantial proportion of deaths from PD occurs in hospitals, although this may not be the most optimal place of terminal care and death. The wide variation between countries in the proportion of deaths from PD occurring in hospital indicates a potential for many countries to reduce these proportions.
Parkinson’s disease; Place of death; Cross-national comparison; Risk factors; Palliative care
The effects of the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP) have never been investigated in older patients dying in acute geriatric hospital wards and its content and implementation have never been adapted to this specific setting. Moreover, the LCP has recently been phased out in the UK hospitals. For that reason, this study aims to develop a new care programme to improve care in the last days of life for older patients dying in acute geriatric wards.
We conducted a phase 0–1 study according to the Medical Research Council Framework. Phase 0 consisted of a review of existing LCP programmes from the UK, Italy, and the Netherlands, a literature review to identify key factors for a successful LCP implementation and an analysis of the concerns raised in the UK. In phase 1, we developed a care programme for the last days of life for older patients dying in acute geriatric wards based on the results of phase 0. The care programme was reviewed and refined by two nurses and two physicians working in an acute geriatric ward and by two experts from Italy and the Netherlands.
Phase 0 resulted in the identification of nine important components within the LCP programmes, five key factors for a successful LCP implementation and a summary of the LCP concerns raised in the UK. Based on these findings we developed a new care programme consisting of (1) an adapted LCP document or Care Guide for the older patients dying in an acute geriatric ward, (2) supportive documentation, and (3) an implementation guide to assist health care staff in implementing the care programme on the acute geriatric ward.
Based on the existing LCP programmes and taking into account the key factors for successful LCP implementation as well as the concerns raised in the UK, we developed a care programme for the last days of life and modelled it to the acute geriatric hospital wards after gaining feedback from health professionals caring for older hospitalized patients.
Liverpool Care Pathway; End-of-life care; Older people; Hospital
Although many patients prefer to stay and die at home at the end of life, many are hospitalised. Little is known about how to avoid hospitalisations for patients living at home.
To describe how hospitalisation at the end of life can be avoided, from the perspective of the GPs, nurses and family carers.
A qualitative design with face-to-face interviews was used. Taking 30 cases of patients who died non-suddenly, 26 GPs, 15 nurses and 18 family carers were interviewed in depth. Of the 30 patients, 20 were hospitalised and 10 were not hospitalised in the last three months of life.
Five key themes that could help avoid hospitalisation at the end of life emerged from the interviews. The key themes were: 1) marking the approach of death, and shifting the mindset; 2) being able to provide acute treatment and care at home; 3) anticipatory discussions and interventions to deal with expected severe problems; 4) guiding and monitoring the patient and family in a holistic way through the illness trajectory; 5) continuity of treatment and care at home. If these five key themes are adopted in an interrelated way, this could help avoid hospitalisations, according to GPs, nurses and family carers.
The five key themes described in this study can be seen as strategies that could help in avoiding hospitalisation at the end of life. It is recommended that for all patients residing at home, GPs and community nurses work together as a team from the moment that it is marked that death is approaching up to the end of life.
The Care Programme for the Last Days of Life has been developed to improve the quality of end-of-life care in acute geriatric hospital wards. The programme is based on existing end-of-life care programmes but modeled to the acute geriatric care setting. There is a lack of evidence of the effectiveness of end-of-life care programmes and the effects that may be achieved in patients dying in an acute geriatric hospital setting are unknown. The aim of this paper is to describe the research protocol of a cluster randomized controlled trial to evaluate the effects of the Care Programme for the Last Days of Life.
Methods and design
A cluster randomized controlled trial will be conducted. Ten hospitals with one or more acute geriatric wards will conduct a one-year baseline assessment during which care will be provided as usual. For each patient dying in the ward, a questionnaire will be filled in by a nurse, a physician and a family carer. At the end of the baseline assessment hospitals will be randomized to receive intervention (implementation of the Care Programme) or no intervention. Subsequently, the Care Programme will be implemented in the intervention hospitals over a six-month period. A one-year post-intervention assessment will be performed immediately after the baseline assessment in the control hospitals and after the implementation period in the intervention hospitals. Primary outcomes are symptom frequency and symptom burden of patients in the last 48 hours of life.
This will be the first cluster randomized controlled trial to evaluate the effect of the Care Programme for the Last Days of Life for the acute geriatric hospital setting. The results will enable us to evaluate whether implementation of the Care Programme has positive effects on end-of-life care during the last days of life in this patient population and which components of the Care Programme contribute to improving the quality of end-of-life care.
ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT01890239. Registered June 24th, 2013.
Cluster randomized controlled trial; Terminal care; Hospital; Older people
Spiritual caregiving is part of palliative care and may contribute to well being at the end of life. However, it is a neglected area in the care and treatment of patients with dementia. We aimed to examine predictors of the provision of spiritual end-of-life care in dementia as perceived by physicians coordinating the care.
We used data of the Dutch End of Life in Dementia study (DEOLD; 2007–2011), in which data were collected prospectively in 28 Dutch long-term care facilities. We enrolled newly admitted residents with dementia who died during the course of data collection, their families, and physicians. The outcome of Generalized Estimating Equations (GEE) regression analyses was whether spiritual care was provided shortly before death as perceived by the on-staff elderly care physician who was responsible for end-of-life care (last sacraments or rites or other spiritual care provided by a spiritual counselor or staff). Potential predictors were indicators of high-quality, person-centered, and palliative care, demographics, and some other factors supported by the literature. Resident-level potential predictors such as satisfaction with the physician’s communication were measured 8 weeks after admission (baseline, by families and physicians), physician-level factors such as the physician’s religious background midway through the study, and facility-level factors such as a palliative care unit applied throughout data collection.
According to the physicians, spiritual end-of-life care was provided shortly before death to 20.8% (43/207) of the residents. Independent predictors of spiritual end-of-life care were: families’ satisfaction with physicians’ communication at baseline (OR 1.6, CI 1.0; 2.5 per point on 0–3 scale), and faith or spirituality very important to resident whether (OR 19, CI 5.6; 63) or not (OR 15, CI 5.1; 47) of importance to the physician. Further, female family caregiving was an independent predictor (OR 2.7, CI 1.1; 6.6).
Palliative care indicators were not predictive of spiritual end-of-life care; palliative care in dementia may need better defining and implementation in practice. Physician-family communication upon admission may be important to optimize spiritual caregiving at the end of life.
Dementia; Spirituality; Palliative care; Nursing homes
This is an international study across four European countries (Belgium[BE], the Netherlands[NL], Italy[IT] and Spain[ES]) between 2009 and 2011, describing and comparing care and care setting transitions provided in the last three months of life of cancer patients, using representative GP networks.
General practitioners (GPs) of representative networks in each country reported weekly all non-sudden cancer deaths (+18y) within their practice. GPs reported medical end-of-life care, communication and circumstances of dying on a standardised questionnaire. Multivariate logistic regressions (BE as a reference category) were conducted to compare countries.
Of 2,037 identified patients from four countries, four out of five lived at home or with family in their last year of life. Over 50% of patients had at least one transition in care settings in the last three months of life; one third of patients in BE, IT and ES had a last week hospital admission and died there. In the last week of life, a treatment goal was adopted for 80-95% of those having palliation/comfort as their treatment goal. Cross-country differences in end-of-life care provision included GPs in NL being more involved in palliative care (67%) than in other countries (35%-49%) (OR 1.9) and end-of-life topics less often discussed in IT or ES. Preference for place of death was less often expressed in IT and ES (32-34%) than in BE and NL (49-74%). Of all patients, 88-98% were estimated to have distress from at least one physical symptom in the final week of life.
Although palliative care was the main treatment goal for most cancer patients at the end of life in all four countries, frequent late hospital admissions and the symptom burden experienced in the last week of life indicates that further integration of palliative care into oncology care is required in many countries.
Repeated and long hospitalizations of cancer patients at the end of life have been suggested as indicators of low quality of palliative care. Comparing the care delivered between different countries with the help of these quality indicators may identify opportunities to improve practice. Our objective is twofold: firstly, to describe the scores for the existing quality indicators “the percentage of time spent in hospital” and “the proportion of adult patients with more than one hospitalization in the last 30 days of life” in populations of cancer patients in four European countries and to see whether these countries met previously defined performance standards; secondly, to assess whether these scores are related to receiving palliative care from their GP.
A mortality follow-back study was conducted, based on data recorded by representative GP networks for samples of cancer patients living at home who died non-suddenly in Belgium (n = 500), the Netherlands (n = 310), Italy (n = 764), and Spain (n = 224).
The quality indicator score for “the percentage of time spent in hospital” in the last month of life was 14.1% in the Netherlands, 17.7% in Spain, 22.2% in Italy, and 24.6% in Belgium, which means that none of the countries met the performance standard of <10%. For the “proportion of patients with more than one hospitalization in the last 30 days of life”, two countries met the performance standard of <4%: the Netherlands (0.6%) and Italy (3.1%). Spain had a score of 4.0% and Belgium scored 5.4%. When patients received palliative care from their GP, significantly less time was spent in hospital in the last month and fewer hospitalizations took place.
European countries differ regarding the frequency and duration of hospitalizations of cancer patients in the last month of life. This reflects country-specific differences in the organization of palliative care and highlights the important role of the GP in palliative care provision.
Hospitalizations; Palliative care; Quality indicators
Although many terminally ill people are admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) at the end of life, their care is often inadequate because of poor communication by physicians and lack of patient- and family-centred care. The aim of this systematic literature review was to describe physician-related barriers to adequate communication within the team and with patients and families, as well as barriers to patient- and family-centred decision-making, towards the end of life in the ICU. We base our discussion and evaluation on the quality indicators for end-of-life care in the ICU developed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Critical Care End-of-Life Peer Workgroup.
Four electronic databases (MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL and PsycINFO) were searched, using controlled vocabulary and free text words, for potentially relevant records published between 2003 and 2013 in English or Dutch. Studies were included if the authors reported on physician-related and physician-reported barriers to adequate communication and decision-making. Barriers were categorized as being related to physicians’ knowledge, physicians’ attitudes or physicians’ practice. Study quality was assessed using design-specific tools. Evidence for barriers was graded according to the quantity and quality of studies in which the barriers were reported.
Of 2,191 potentially relevant records, 36 studies were withheld for data synthesis. We determined 90 barriers, of which 46 were related to physicians’ attitudes, 24 to physicians’ knowledge and 20 to physicians’ practice. Stronger evidence was found for physicians’ lack of communication training and skills, their attitudes towards death in the ICU, their focus on clinical parameters and their lack of confidence in their own judgment of their patient’s true condition.
We conclude that many physician-related barriers hinder adequate communication and shared decision-making in ICUs. Better physician education and palliative care guidelines are needed to enhance knowledge, attitudes and practice regarding end-of-life care. Patient-, family- and health care system–related barriers need to be examined.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13054-014-0604-z) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Care homes are increasingly becoming places where people spend the final stages of their lives and eventually die. This trend is expected to continue due to population ageing, yet little is known about public preferences regarding this setting. As part of a larger study examining preferences and priorities for end of life care, we investigated the extent to which care homes are chosen as the least preferred place of death, and the factors associated with this negative preference.
We conducted a cross-sectional telephone survey among 9,344 adults from random private households in England, Flanders, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. We asked participants where they would least prefer to die in a situation of serious illness with less than one year to live. Multivariate binary logistic regressions were used to identify factors associated with choosing care homes as the least preferred place of death in each country.
Care homes were the most frequently mentioned least preferred place of death in the Netherlands (41.5%), Italy and Spain (both 36.7%) and the second most frequent in England (28.0%), Portugal (25.8%), Germany (23.7%) and Flanders (18.9%). Only two factors had a similar and significant effect on the least preferred place of death in more than one country. In Germany and the Netherlands those doing housework were less likely to choose care homes as their least preferred place (AOR 0.72; 95% CI:0.54-0.96 and AOR 0.68; 95% CI:0.52-0.90 respectively), while those born in the country where the survey took place were more likely to choose care homes (AOR 1.77; 95% CI:1.05-2.99 and AOR 1.74; 95% CI:1.03-2.95 respectively). Experiences of serious illness, death and dying were not associated with the preference.
Our results suggest it might be difficult to promote care homes as a good place to die. This is an urgent research area in order to meet needs and preferences of a growing number of older people with chronic, debilitating conditions across Europe. From a research perspective and in order to allow people to be cared for and die where they wish, our findings highlight the need to build more in depth evidence on reasons underlying this negative preference.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1472-684X-13-48) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Public health; Europe; Health care surveys; Care homes; Preferences; Palliative care
“Life-ending acts without explicit patient request,” as identified in robust international studies, are central in current debates on physician-assisted dying. Despite their contentiousness, little attention has been paid to their actual characteristics and to what extent they truly represent nonvoluntary termination of life.
We analyzed the 66 cases of life-ending acts without explicit patient request identified in a large-scale survey of physicians certifying a representative sample of deaths (n = 6927) in Flanders, Belgium, in 2007. The characteristics we studied included physicians’ labelling of the act, treatment course and doses used, and patient involvement in the decision.
In most cases (87.9%), physicians labelled their acts in terms of symptom treatment rather than in terms of ending life. By comparing drug combinations and doses of opioids used, we found that the life-ending acts were similar to intensified pain and symptom treatment and were distinct from euthanasia. In 45 cases, there was at least 1 characteristic inconsistent with the common understanding of the practice: either patients had previously expressed a wish for ending life (16/66, 24.4%), physicians reported that the administered doses had not been higher than necessary to relieve suffering (22/66, 33.3%), or both (7/66, 10.6%).
Most of the cases we studied did not fit the label of “nonvoluntary life-ending” for at least 1 of the following reasons: the drugs were administered with a focus on symptom control; a hastened death was highly unlikely; or the act was taken in accordance with the patient’s previously expressed wishes. Thus, we recommend a more nuanced view of life-ending acts without explicit patient request in the debate on physician-assisted dying.
Following the 2002 enactment of the Belgian law on euthanasia, which requires the consultation of an independent second physician before proceeding with euthanasia, the Life End Information Forum (LEIF) was founded which provides specifically trained physicians who can act as mandatory consultants in euthanasia requests. This study assesses quality of consultations in Flanders and Brussels and compares these between LEIF and non-LEIF consultants.
A questionnaire was sent in 2009 to a random sample of 3,006 physicians in Belgium from specialties likely involved in the care of dying patients. Several questions about the last euthanasia request of one of their patients were asked. As LEIF serves the Flemish speaking community (i.e. region of Flanders and the bilingual Brussels Capital Region) and no similar counterpart is present in Wallonia, analyses were limited to Flemish speaking physicians in Flanders and Brussels.
Response was 34%. Of the 244 physicians who indicated having received a euthanasia request seventy percent consulted a second physician in their last request; in 30% this was with a LEIF physician. Compared to non-LEIF physicians, LEIF physicians were more often not a colleague (69% vs 42%) and not a co-attending physician (89% vs 66%). They tended to more often discuss the request with the attending physician (100% vs 95%) and with the family (76% vs 69%), and also more frequently helped the attending physician with performing euthanasia (44% vs 24%). No significant differences were found in the extent to which they talked to the patient (96% vs 93%) and examined the patient file (94% vs 97%).
In cases of explicit euthanasia requests in Belgium, the consultation procedure of another physician by the attending physician is not optimal and can be improved. Training and putting at disposal consultants through forums such as LEIF seems able to improve this situation. Adding stipulations in the law about the necessary competencies and tasks of consulting physicians may additionally incite improvement. Irrespective of whether euthanasia is a legal practice within a country, similar services may prove useful to also improve quality of consultations in various other difficult end-of-life decision-making situations.
Euthanasia; Consultation; Referral practice; Terminal care
Sedation in palliative care has received growing attention in recent years; and so have guidelines, position statements, and related literature that provide recommendations for its practice. Yet little is known collectively about the content, scope and methodological quality of these materials.
According to research, there are large variations in palliative sedation practice, depending on the definition and methodology used. However, a standardised approach to comparing and contrasting related documents, across countries, associations and governmental bodies is lacking. This paper reports on a protocol designed to enable thorough and systematic comparison of guidelines and guidance documents on palliative sedation.
Methods and design
A multidisciplinary and international group of palliative care researchers, identified themes and clinical issues on palliative sedation based on expert consultations and evidence drawn from the EAPC (European Association of Palliative Care) framework for palliative sedation and AGREE II (Appraisal Guideline Research and Evaluation) instrument for guideline assessment. The most relevant themes were selected and built into a comprehensive checklist. This was tested on people working closely with practitioners and patients, for user-friendliness and comprehensibility, and modified where necessary. Next, a systematic search was conducted for guidelines in English, Dutch, Flemish, or Italian. The search was performed in multiple databases (PubMed, CancerLit, CNAHL, Cochrane Library, NHS Evidence and Google Scholar), and via other Internet resources. Hereafter, the final version of the checklist will be used to extract data from selected literature, and the same will be compiled, entered into SPSS, cleaned and analysed systematically for publication.
We have together developed a comprehensive checklist in a scientifically rigorous manner to allow standardised and systematic comparison. The protocol is applicable to all guidelines on palliative sedation, and the approach will contribute to rigorous and systematic comparison of international guidelines on any challenging topic such as this. Results from the study will provide valuable insights into common core elements and differences between the selected guidelines, and the extent to which recommendations are derived from, or match those in the EAPC framework. The outcomes of the study will be disseminated via peer-reviewed journals and directly to appropriate audiences.
Palliative sedation; Practice guidelines; Content analysis; Comparative research; Study protocol
Little is known about the type of care older people of different ages receive at the end of life. The goal of treatment is an important parameter of the quality of end-of-life care. This study aims to provide an evaluation of the main goal of treatment in the last week of life of people aged 86 and older compared with those between 75 and 85 and to examine how treatment goals are associated with age.
Population- based cross sectional survey in Flanders, Belgium. A stratified random sample of death certificates was drawn of people who died between 1 June and 30 November 2007. The effective study sample included 3,623 deaths (response rate: 58.4%). Non-sudden deaths of patients aged 75 years and older were selected (N = 1681). Main outcome was the main goal of treatment in the last week of life (palliative care or life-prolonging/curative treatment).
In patients older than 75, the main goal of treatment in the last week was in the majority of cases palliative care (77.9%). Patients between 75 and 85 more often received life-prolonging/curative treatment than older patients (26.6% vs. 15.8%). Most patient and health care characteristics are similarly related to the main goal of treatment in both age groups. The patient’s age was independently related to having comfort care as the main goal of treatment. The main goal of treatment was also independently associated with the patient’s sex, cause and place of death and the time already in treatment.
Age is independently related to the main goal of treatment in the last week of life with people over 85 being more likely to receive palliative care and less likely to receive curative/life-prolonging treatment compared with those aged 75–85. This difference could be due to the patient’s wishes but could also be the result of the attitudes of care givers towards the treatment of older people.
Palliative care; End-of-life care; Older people
Dying at home and dying at the preferred place of death are advocated to be desirable outcomes of palliative care. More insight is needed in their usefulness as quality indicators. Our objective is to describe whether “the percentage of patients dying at home” and “the percentage of patients who died in their place of preference” are feasible and informative quality indicators.
Methods and Findings
A mortality follow-back study was conducted, based on data recorded by representative GP networks regarding home-dwelling patients who died non-suddenly in Belgium (n = 1036), the Netherlands (n = 512), Italy (n = 1639) or Spain (n = 565). “The percentage of patients dying at home” ranged between 35.3% (Belgium) and 50.6% (the Netherlands) in the four countries, while “the percentage of patients dying at their preferred place of death” ranged between 67.8% (Italy) and 86.0% (Spain). Both indicators were strongly associated with palliative care provision by the GP (odds ratios of 1.55–13.23 and 2.30–6.63, respectively). The quality indicator concerning the preferred place of death offers a broader view than the indicator concerning home deaths, as it takes into account all preferences met in all locations. However, GPs did not know the preferences for place of death in 39.6% (the Netherlands) to 70.3% (Italy), whereas the actual place of death was known in almost all cases.
GPs know their patients’ actual place of death, making the percentage of home deaths a feasible indicator for collection by GPs. However, patients’ preferred place of death was often unknown to the GP. We therefore recommend using information from relatives as long as information from GPs on the preferred place of death is lacking. Timely communication about the place where patients want to be cared for at the end of life remains a challenge for GPs.
Since many patients spend most of the time at home at the end of life, this may affect the burden for family carers and constitute a risk factor for the patients’ hospitalisation. This study aimed to explore family carers’ burden in the final three months of the patient’s life, from the perspective of both carers and general practitioners (GPs), and to assess whether family burden, as defined by the GP, is associated with hospitalisation.
A cross-sectional nationwide survey among GPs and family carers was performed. Participants were 194 GPs and 74 family carers of patients who died non-suddenly. Additionally, in-depth interviews were conducted with 18 family carers. For the quantitative analyses descriptive statistics, weighted Kappa and multivariate logistic regression analysis was performed. For the qualitative part thematic analysis was conducted.
The proportion of family carers experiencing a fairly heavy or severe burden increased significantly from 32% (second and third months before death) to 66% (one week before death). Most carers (95%) felt an emotional burden and 29% felt a physical burden in the final week. Three-quarters of carers did not perceive their burden as a problem because caring often felt rewarding. No significant association was found between the characteristics of family caregivers or professional care and the degree of family caregiver burden. Also, there was no significant evidence that patients of family carers for whom the GP assessed a fairly heavy to severe burden, were more likely to be hospitalised.
The different overall assessment of family carers’ burden between GPs and family carers and the increasing emotional and physical burden of family carers towards the end constitute relevant information for GPs that will help them understand and anticipate carers’ personal needs.
Palliative care; General practitioner; Family carer; Burden; Hospitalisation; Mixed method
Background: The rising number of deaths from cancer and other life-limiting illnesses is accompanied by a growing number of family carers who provide long-lasting care, including end-of-life care. This population-based epidemiological study aimed to describe and compare in four European countries the prevalence of and factors associated with physical or emotional overburden and difficulties in covering care-related costs among family carers of people at the end of life. Methods: A cross-national retrospective study was conducted via nationwide representative sentinel networks of general practitioners (GPs). Using a standardized form, GPs in Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy and Spain recorded information on the last 3 months of life of every deceased adult practice patient (1 January 2009–31 December 2010). Sudden deaths were excluded. Results: We studied 4466 deaths. GPs judged family carers of 28% (Belgium), 30% (The Netherlands), 35% (Spain) and 71% (Italy) of patients as physically/emotionally overburdened (P < 0.001). For 8% (Spain), 14% (Belgium), 36% (The Netherlands) and 43% (Italy) patients, GPs reported difficulties in covering care-related costs (P < 0.001). Patients <85 years of age (Belgium, Italy) had higher odds of having physically/emotionally overburdened family carers and financial burden. Death from non-malignant illness (vs. cancer) (Belgium and Italy) and dying at home compared with other locations (The Netherlands and Italy) were associated with higher odds of difficulties in covering care-related costs. Conclusion: In all countries studied, and particularly in Italy, GPs observed a considerable extent of physical/emotional overburden as well as difficulties in covering care-related costs among family carers of people at the end of life. Implications for health- and social care policies are discussed.
The nationwide integration of palliative care best practices into general care settings is challenging but important in improving the quality of palliative care. This is why the Dutch National Quality Improvement Programme for Palliative Care has recently been launched. This four-year programme consists of about 70 implementation trajectories of best practices. A large evaluation study has been set up to evaluate this national programme and separate implementation trajectories.
This paper presents the protocol of the evaluation study consisting of a quantitative effect evaluation and a qualitative process evaluation. The effect evaluation has a pre-test post-test design, with measurements before implementation (month 0) and after implementation (month 9) of a best practice. Patients are eligible if they have a life expectancy of less than six months and/or if they are undergoing palliative treatment and provided they are physically and mentally capable of responding to questionnaires. Bereaved relatives are eligible if they have been involved in the care of a deceased patient who died after a sickbed between six weeks and six months ago. Three types of measurement instruments are used: (1) numerical rating scales for six symptoms (pain, fatigue, breathlessness, obstipation, sadness and anxiety), (2) the Consumer Quality Index Palliative Care - patient version and (3) the version for bereaved relatives.
The process evaluation consists of analysing implementation plans and reports of the implementation, and individual and group interviews with healthcare professionals. This will be done nine to eleven months after the start of the implementation of a best practice.
This mixed-method evaluation study gives more insight into the effects of the total programme and the separate implementation trajectories. However, evaluation of large quality improvement programmes is complicated due to changing, non-controlled environments. Therefore, it is important that an effect evaluation is combined with a process evaluation.
Palliative care; Terminal care; End-of-life care; Effect evaluation; Process evaluation; Quality improvement; Complex intervention; Implementation; Effectiveness
The proportion of high-grade glioma patients dying with dignity as perceived by their relatives is assessed and disease- and care-related factors correlated with dying with dignity in high-grade glioma patients are identified.
In the end-of-life (EOL) phase, high-grade glioma (HGG) patients have a high symptom burden and often lose independence because of physical and cognitive dysfunction. This might affect the patient's personal dignity. We aimed to (a) assess the proportion of HGG patients dying with dignity as perceived by their relatives and (b) identify disease and care factors correlated with dying with dignity in HGG patients.
We approached relatives of a cohort of 155 deceased HGG patients for the study. Participants completed a questionnaire concerning the EOL phase of the patient, covering several subthemes: (a) symptoms and signs, (b) health-related quality of life, (c) decision making, (d) place and quality of EOL care, and (e) dying with dignity.
Relatives of 81 patients participated and 75% indicated that the patient died with dignity. These patients had fewer communication deficits, experienced fewer transitions between health care settings in the EOL phase, and more frequently died at their preferred place of death. Relatives were more satisfied with the physician providing EOL care and reported that the physician adequately explained treatment options. Multivariate analysis identified satisfaction with the physician, the ability to communicate, and the absence of transitions between settings as most predictive of a dignified death.
Physicians caring for HGG patients in the EOL phase should timely focus on explaining possible treatment options, because patients experience communication deficits toward death. Physicians should strive to allow patients to die at their preferred place and avoid transitions during the last month of life.
High grade glioma; Dignity; End of life; Quality of life; Quality of care
The long-term and often lifelong relationship of general practitioners (GPs) with their patients is considered to make them the ideal initiators of advance care planning (ACP). However, in general the incidence of ACP discussions is low and ACP seems to occur more often for cancer patients than for those with dementia or heart failure.
To identify the barriers, from GPs' perspective, to initiating ACP and to gain insight into any differences in barriers between the trajectories of patients with cancer, heart failure and dementia.
Five focus groups were held with GPs (n = 36) in Flanders, Belgium. The focus group discussions were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using the method of constant comparative analysis.
Three types of barriers were distinguished: barriers relating to the GP, to the patient and family and to the health care system. In cancer patients, a GP's lack of knowledge about treatment options and the lack of structural collaboration between the GP and specialist were expressed as barriers. Barriers that occured more often with heart failure and dementia were the lack of GP familiarity with the terminal phase, the lack of key moments to initiate ACP, the patient's lack of awareness of their diagnosis and prognosis and the fact that patients did not often initiate such discussions themselves. The future lack of decision-making capacity of dementia patients was reported by the GPs as a specific barrier for the initiation of ACP.
The results of our study contribute to a better understanding of the factors hindering GPs in initiating ACP. Multiple barriers need to be overcome, of which many can be addressed through the development of practical guidelines and educational interventions.
Due to a rising number of deaths from cancer and other chronic diseases a growing number of people experience complex symptoms and require palliative care towards the end of life. However, population-based data on the number of people receiving palliative care in Europe are scarce. The objective of this study is to examine, in four European countries, the number of people receiving palliative care in the last three months of life and the factors associated with receiving palliative care.
Cross-national retrospective study. Over two years (2009–2010), GPs belonging to representative epidemiological surveillance networks in Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain registered weekly all deaths of patients (≥18 years) in their practices and the care they received in the last three months of life using a standardized form. Sudden deaths were excluded.
We studied 4,466 deaths. GPs perceived to have delivered palliative care to 50% of patients in Belgium, 55% in Italy, 62% in the Netherlands, and 65% in Spain (p<.001). Palliative care specialists attended to 29% of patients in the Netherlands, 39% in Italy, 45% in Spain, and 47% in Belgium (p<.001). Specialist palliative care lasted a median (inter-quartile range) of 15 (23) days in Belgium to 30 (70) days in Italy (p<.001). Cancer patients were more likely than non-cancer patients to receive palliative care in all countries as were younger patients in Italy and Spain with regard to specialist palliative care.
Although palliative care is established in the countries studied, there are considerable differences in its provision. Two potentially underserved groups emerge non-cancer patients in all countries and older people in Italy and Spain. Future research should examine how differences in palliative care use relate to both patient characteristics and existing national health care policies.
: Selective participation in retrospective studies of families recruited after the patient's death may threaten generalizability of reports on end-of-life experiences.
To assess possible selection bias in retrospective study of dementia at the end of life using family reports.
Two physician teams covering six nursing home facilities in the Netherlands reported on 117 of 119 consecutive decedents within two weeks after death unaware of after-death family participation in the study. They reported on characteristics; treatment and care; overall patient outcomes such as comfort, nursing care, and outcomes; and their own perspectives on the experience. We compared results between decedents with and without family participation.
The family response rate was 55%. There were no significant differences based on participation versus nonparticipation in demographics and other nursing home resident characteristics, treatment and care, or overall resident outcome. However, among participating families, physicians perceived higher-quality aspects of nursing care and outcome, better consensus between staff and family on treatment, and a more peaceful death. Participation was less likely with involvement of a new family member in the last month.
Families may be more likely to participate in research with more harmonious teamwork in end-of-life caregiving. Where family participation is an enrollment criterion, comparing demographics alone may not capture possible selection bias, especially in more subjective measures. Selection bias toward more positive experiences, which may include the physician's and probably also the family's experiences, should be considered if representativeness is aimed for. Future work should address selection bias in other palliative settings and countries, and with prospective recruitment.
The aim of this systematic review is to identify the perceived factors hindering or facilitating GPs in engaging in advance care planning (ACP) with their patients about care at the end of life.
Studies from 1990 to 2011 were found in four electronic databases (PubMed, CINAHL, EMBASE, PsycINFO); by contacting first authors of included studies and key experts; and searching through relevant journals and reference lists. Studies were screened, graded for quality, and analysed independently by two authors; those reporting the perception by GPs of barriers and facilitators to engagement in ACP were included.
Eight qualitative studies and seven cross-sectional studies were included for data extraction. All barriers and facilitators identified were categorized as GP characteristics, perceived patient factors, or health care system characteristics. Stronger evidence was found for the following barriers: lack of skills to deal with patients’ vague requests, difficulties with defining the right moment, the attitude that it is the patient who should initiate ACP, and fear of depriving patients of hope. Stronger evidence was found for the following facilitators: accumulated skills, the ability to foresee health problems in the future, skills to respond to a patient's initiation of ACP, personal convictions about who to involve in ACP, and a longstanding patient–GP relationship and the home setting.
Initiation of ACP in general practice may be improved by targeting the GPs’ skills, attitudes, and beliefs but changes in health care organization and financing could also contribute.
Advance care planning; barriers; Belgium; facilitators; general practice; general practitioner; systematic review
Educational attainment has been shown to influence access to and quality of health care. However, the influence of educational attainment on decision-making at the end of life with possible or certain life-shortening effect (ELDs ie intensified pain and symptom alleviation, non-treatment decisions, euthanasia/physician-assisted suicide, and life-ending acts without explicit request) is scarcely studied. This paper examines differences between educational groups pertaining to prevalence of ELDs, the decision-making process and end-of-life treatment characteristics.
We performed a retrospective survey among physicians certifying a large representative sample of Belgian deaths in 2007. Differences between educational groups were adjusted for relevant confounders (age, sex, cause of death and marital status).
Intensified pain and symptom alleviation and non-treatment decisions are more likely to occur in higher educated than in lower educated patients. These decisions were less likely to be discussed with either patient or family, or with colleague physicians, in lower educated patients. A positive association between education and prevalence of euthanasia/assisted suicide (acts as well as requests) disappeared when adjusting for cause of death. No differences between educational groups were found in the treatment goal in the last week, but higher educated patients were more likely to receive opioids in the last day of life.
There are some important differences and possible inequities between educational groups in end-of-life decision-making in Belgium. Future research should investigate whether the found differences reflect differences in knowledge of and adherence to patient preferences, and indicate a discrepancy in quality of the end of life.
Educational attainment; Socio-economic inequalities; Cultural capital; End-of-life care; End-of-life decisions; Euthanasia