BACKGROUND: Timely end-of-life (EOL) discussions between patients and physicians are considered essential for high-quality EOL care, but research shows that these discussions frequently do not occur or occur late. In oncology, one barrier for timely EOL discussions is poor collaboration between oncologic specialists and GPs.
OBJECTIVE: To explore interprofessional communication and coordination between oncologic specialists and GPs on EOL discussions.
METHODS: We conducted in-depth interviews with 16 GPs and 14 oncologic specialists. Interviews were recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed using qualitative content analysis.
RESULTS: EOL discussions were primarily considered the role of the GP, but oncologists' perceptions of their own roles in discussing EOL issues varied. Interprofessional coordination on who discusses what and when was mostly absent. Interprofessional communication of EOL issues usually proceeded using the patient as intermediary. This functioned well but only if three essential conditions were met: the specialist being realistic to patients about limits of treatment, informing the GP adequately and the GP being proactive in initiating EOL issues in time. However, when these conditions were absent, timely EOL discussions did not seem to occur.
CONCLUSIONS: EOL discussions are rarely a subject of direct interprofessional communication and mainly proceed through the patient as intermediary. For implementation of EOL discussions into regular care, earlier interprofessional communication and coordination is needed, particularly if barriers for such discussions occur.