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.
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.
“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
Nowadays, palliative care is considered as a care continuum that may start early in the course of the disease. In order to address the evolving needs of patients for palliative care in time, GPs should be aware in good time of the diagnosis and of the imminence of death. The aim of the study was to gain insight into how long before a non-sudden death the diagnosis of the disease ultimately leading to death is made and on what kind of information the diagnosis is based. In addition, we aimed to explore when, and based on what kind of information, GPs become aware that death of a patient will be in the foreseeable future.
A written questionnaire focusing on the GPs’ experiences with their last patient who died non-suddenly was sent to a random representative sample of 850 GPs in the Netherlands.
The data were analysed of the 297 GPs who responded. 76% of the reported cases were cancer patients and 24% were patients with another non-sudden cause of death. The diagnosis was made only in the last week of life for 15% of the non-cancer patients and 1% of the patients with cancer. GPs were most likely to have been informed of the diagnosis by the medical specialist, although particularly in the case of non-cancer patients GPs also relied on their own assessment of the diagnosis or on other information sources.
The GP remained unaware that the patient would die in the foreseeable future until the last week of life in 26% of the non-cancer group, while this was the case for only 6% of the cancer patients. GP’s awareness was most likely to be based on the GP’s own observations of problems and/or symptoms.
The GP often only becomes aware of a fatal diagnosis and of death in the foreseeable future at a late stage in the disease trajectory, particularly in the case of non-cancer patients. It can be assumed that if the diagnosis and the nearing death are only recognised at a late stage, palliative care is either started at a very late stage or not at all.
General practice; Primary care; Palliative care; End-of-life care; Diagnosis; Cancer; Chronic diseases
Communicating effectively with palliative care patients has been acknowledged to be somewhat difficult, but little is known about the effect that training general practitioners (GPs) in specific elements of communication in palliative care might have. We hypothesized that GPs exposed to a new training programme in GP-patient communication in palliative care focusing on availability of the GP for the patient, current issues the GP should discuss with the patient and anticipation by the GP of various scenarios (ACA), would discuss more issues and become more skilled in their communication with palliative care patients.
In this controlled trial among GPs who attended a two-year Palliative Care Peer Group Training Course in the Netherlands only intervention GPs received the ACA training programme. To evaluate the effect of the programme a content analysis (Roter Interaction Analysis System) was performed of one videotaped 15-minute consultation of each GP with a simulated palliative care patient conducted at baseline, and one at 12 months follow-up. Both how the GP communicated with the patient (‘availability’) and the number of current and anticipated issues the GP discussed with the patient were measured quantitatively. We used linear mixed models and logistic regression models to evaluate between-group differences over time.
Sixty-two GPs were assigned to the intervention and 64 to the control group. We found no effect of the ACA training programme on how the GPs communicated with the patient or on the number of issues discussed by GPs with the patient. The total number of issues discussed by the GPs was eight out of 13 before and after the training in both groups.
The ACA training programme did not influence how the GPs communicated with the simulated palliative care patient or the number of issues discussed by the GPs in this trial. Further research should evaluate whether this training programme is effective for GPs who do not have a special interest in palliative care and whether studies using outcomes at patient level can provide more insight into the effectiveness of the ACA training programme.
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN56722368
Communication; Controlled Clinical Trial; Education Medical Continuing; Family Practice; Palliative Care
Although end-of-life care has become an issue of great clinical and public health concern in Europe and beyond, we lack population-based nationwide data that monitor and compare the circumstances of dying and care received in the final months of life in different countries. The European Sentinel GP Networks Monitoring End of Life Care (EURO SENTIMELC) study was designed to describe and compare the last months of life of patients dying in different European countries. We aim to describe how representative GP networks in the EURO SENTIMELC study operate to monitor end of life care in a country, to describe used methodology, research procedures, representativity and characteristics of the population reached using this methodology.
Nationwide representative Networks of General Practitioners (GPs) – ie epidemiological surveillance systems representative of all GPs in a country or large region of a country – in Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain continuously registered every deceased patient (>18 year) in their practice, using weekly standardized registration forms, during two consecutive years (2009–2010).
All GPs were asked to identify patients who had died “non-suddenly”. The last three months of these patients’ lives was surveyed retrospectively. Several quality control measures were used to ensure data of high scientific quality.
A total of 6858 deaths were registered of which two thirds died non-suddenly (from 62% in the Netherlands to 69% in Spain), representative for the GP populations in the participating countries. Of all non-sudden deaths, between 32% and 44% of deaths were aged 85 or older; between 46% and 54% were female, and between 23% and 49% died at home. Cancer was cause of death in 37% to 53% of non-sudden death cases in the four participating countries.
Via the EURO SENTI-MELC methodology, we can build a descriptive epidemiological database on end-of-life care provision in several EU countries, measuring across setting and diseases. The data can serve as baseline measurement to compare and monitor end-of-life care over time. The use of representative GP networks for end-of-life care monitoring has huge potential in Europe where several of these networks are operational.
Palliative care; Monitoring; End of life
Patients with dementia frequently do not receive adequate palliative care which may relate to poor understanding of the natural course of dementia. We hypothesized that understanding that dementia is a progressive and terminal disease is fundamental to a focus on comfort in dementia, and examined how family and professional caregivers’ understanding of the nature of the disease was associated with patients’ comfort during the dying process.
We enrolled 372 nursing home patients from 28 facilities in The Netherlands in a prospective observational study (2007 to 2010). We studied both the families and the physicians (73) of 161 patients. Understanding referred to families’ comprehension of complications, prognosis, having been counseled on these, and perception of dementia as “a disease you can die from” (5-point agreement scale) at baseline. Physicians reported on this perception, prognosis and having counseled on this. Staff-assessed comfort with the End-of-Life in Dementia - Comfort Assessment in Dying (EOLD-CAD) scale. Associations between understanding and comfort were assessed with generalized estimating equations, structural equation modeling, and mediator analyses.
A family’s perception of dementia as “a disease you can die from” predicted higher patient comfort during the dying process (adjusted coefficient −0.8, 95% confidence interval (CI): −1.5; -0.06 point increment disagreement). Family and physician combined perceptions (−0.9, CI: −1.5; -0.2; 9-point scale) were also predictive, including in less advanced dementia. Forty-three percent of the families perceived dementia as a disease you can die from (agreed completely, partly); 94% of physicians did. The association between combined perception and higher comfort was mediated by the families’ reporting of a good relationship with the patient and physicians’ perception that good care was provided in the last week.
Awareness of the terminal nature of dementia may improve patient comfort at the end of life. Educating families on the nature of dementia may be an important part of advance care planning.
Palliative care; End of life; Dementia
Little is known about how GPs determine whether and when patients need palliative care. Little research has been done regarding the assumption underpinning Lynn and Adamson’s model that palliative care may start early in the course of the disease. This study was conducted to explore how GPs identify a need for palliative care in patients.
A qualitative interview study was performed among 20 GPs in the Netherlands.
GPs reported that a combination of several signals, often subtle and not explicit, made them identify a need for palliative care: signals from patients (increasing care dependency and not recuperating after intercurrent diseases) and signals from relatives or reports from medical specialists. GPs reported differences in how they identified a need for palliative care in cancer patients versus those with other diseases. In cancer patients, the need for palliative care was often relatively clear because of a relatively strict demarcation between the curative and palliative phase. However, in patients with e.g. COPD or in the very old, GPs' awareness of palliative care needs often arises gradually, relatively late in the disease trajectory.
GPs consider the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness as a key point in the disease trajectory. However, this does not automatically mean that a patient needs palliative care at that point.
GPs recognize a need for palliative care on the basis of various signals. They do not support the idea underlying Lynn and Adamson’s model that palliative care always starts early in the course of the disease.
General practice; Primary care; Palliative care; Qualitative research; End-of-life care
Background: Despite ageing populations and increasing cancer deaths, many European countries lack national policies regarding palliative and end-of-life care. The aim of our research was to determine public views regarding end-of-life care in the face of serious illness. Methods: Implementation of a pan-European population-based survey with adults in England, Belgium (Flanders), Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Three stages of analysis were completed on open-ended question data: (i) inductive analysis to determine a category-code framework; (ii) country-level manifest deductive content analysis; and (iii) thematic analysis to identify cross-country prominent themes. Results: Of the 9344 respondents, 1543 (17%) answered the open-ended question. Two prominent themes were revealed: (i) a need for improved quality of end-of-life and palliative care, and access to this care for patients and families and (ii) the recognition of the importance of death and dying, the cessation of treatments to extend life unnecessarily and the need for holistic care to include comfort and support. Conclusions: Within Europe, the public recognizes the importance of death and dying; they are concerned about the prioritization of quantity of life over quality of life; and they call for improved quality of end-of-life and palliative care for patients, especially for elderly patients, and families. To fulfil the urgent need for a policy response and to advance research and care, we suggest four solutions for European palliative and end-of-life care: institute government-led national strategies; protect regional research funding; consider within- and between-country variance; establish standards for training, education and service delivery.
Europe faces an enormous public health challenge with aging populations and rising cancer incidence. Little is known about what concerns the public across European countries regarding cancer care towards the end of life. We aimed to compare the level of public concern with different symptoms and problems in advanced cancer across Europe and examine factors influencing this.
Telephone survey with 9,344 individuals aged ≥16 in England, Flanders, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Participants were asked about nine symptoms and problems, imagining a situation of advanced cancer with less than one year to live. These were ranked and the three top concerns examined in detail. As ‘burden to others’ showed most variation within and between countries, we determined the relative influence of factors on this concern using GEE and logistic regression.
Overall response rate was 21%. Pain was the top concern in all countries, from 34% participants (Italy) to 49% (Flanders). Burden was second in England, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. Breathlessness was second in Flanders and the Netherlands. Concern with burden was independently associated with age (70+ years, OR 1.50; 95%CI 1.24-1.82), living alone (OR 0.82, 95%CI 0.73-0.93) and preferring quality rather than quantity of life (OR 1.43, 95%CI 1.14-1.80).
When imagining a last year of life with cancer, the public is not only concerned about medical problems but also about being a burden. Public education about palliative care and symptom control is needed. Cancer care should include a routine assessment and management of social concerns, particularly for older patients with poor prognosis.
Making treatment decisions in anticipation of possible future incapacity is an important part of patient participation in end-of-life decision-making. This study estimates and compares the prevalence of GP-patient end-of-life treatment discussions and patients’ appointment of surrogate decision-makers in Italy, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands and examines associated factors.
A cross-sectional, retrospective survey was conducted with representative GP networks in four countries. GPs recorded the health and care characteristics in the last three months of life of 4,396 patients who died non-suddenly. Prevalences were estimated and logistic regressions were used to examine between country differences and country-specific associated patient and care factors.
GP-patient discussion of treatment preferences occurred for 10%, 7%, 25% and 47% of Italian, Spanish, Belgian and of Dutch patients respectively. Furthermore, 6%, 5%, 16% and 29% of Italian, Spanish, Belgian and Dutch patients had a surrogate decision-maker. Despite some country-specific differences, previous GP-patient discussion of primary diagnosis, more frequent GP contact, GP provision of palliative care, the importance of palliative care as a treatment aim and place of death were positively associated with preference discussions or surrogate appointments. A diagnosis of dementia was negatively associated with preference discussions and surrogate appointments.
The study revealed a higher prevalence of treatment preference discussions and surrogate appointments in the two northern compared to the two southern European countries. Factors associated with preference discussions and surrogate appointments suggest that delaying diagnosis discussions impedes anticipatory planning, whereas early preference discussions, particularly for dementia patients, and the provision of palliative care encourage participation.
In recent years, there have been several studies, using a wide variety of methods, aimed at developing quality indicators for palliative care. In this Quality Indicators for Palliative Care study (Q-PAC study) we have applied a scientifically rigorous method to develop a comprehensive and valid quality indicator set which can contribute to a standardized method for use in other countries.
Methods and design
Firstly, an extensive literature review identified existing international quality indicators and relevant themes for measuring quality in palliative care. Secondly, the most relevant of these were selected by an expert panel. Thirdly, those prioritized by the experts were scored by a second multidisciplinary expert panel for usability and relevance, in keeping with the RAND/UCLA-method, combining evidence with consensus among stakeholders. This panel included carers and policymakers as well as patients and next-of-kin. Fourthly, the draft set was tested and evaluated in practice for usability and feasibility; the indicators were then translated into questionnaires presented to patients, next-of-kin and care providers. To encourage the acceptance and use of the indicators, stakeholders, including national palliative care organizations, were involved throughout the whole project.
Our indicator development trajectory resulted in a set of quality indicators applicable to all patients in all palliative care settings. The set includes patient and relative perspectives and includes outcome, process and structure indicators. Our method can contribute internationally to a more standardized and rigorous approach to developing quality indicators for palliative care.
Quality indicators; Quality measurement; Palliative care; Quality of care; End of life care; Hospice care; Outcome measures; Developing method