Physicians' perspectives on estimating and communicating prognosis in palliative care: a cross-sectional survey

Marijanne Engel, Andrée van der Ark, Lia van Zuylen, Agnes van der Heide

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BACKGROUND: Advance care planning (ACP) can help to enhance the care of patients with limited life expectancy. Despite physicians' key role in ACP, the ways in which physicians estimate and communicate prognosis can be improved.

AIM: To determine how physicians in different care settings self-assess their performance in estimating and communicating prognosis to patients in palliative care, and how they perceive their communication with other physicians about patients' poor prognosis.

DESIGN & SETTING: A survey study was performed among a random sample of GPs, hospital physicians (HPs), and nursing home physicians (NHPs) in the southwest of the Netherlands (n = 2212).

METHOD: A questionnaire was developed that had three versions for GPs, HPs, and NHPs. Each specialism filled in an appropriate version.

RESULTS: A total of 547 physicians participated: 259 GPs, 205 HPs, and 83 NHPs. In the study, 61.1% of physicians indicated being able to adequately estimate whether a patient will die within 1 year, which was associated with use of the Surprise Question (odds ratio [OR] = 1.65, P = 0.042). In the case of a prognosis of <1 year, 75.0% of physicians indicated that they communicate with patients about preferences regarding treatment and care, which was associated with physicians being trained in palliative care (OR = 2.02, P=0.007). In cases where patients with poor prognosis are discharged after hospital admission, 83.4% of HPs indicated that they inform GPs about these patients' preferences compared with 29.0% of GPs, and 21.7% of NHPs, who indicated that they are usually adequately informed about the preferences.

CONCLUSION: The majority of physicians indicated that they believe they can adequately estimate patients' limited life expectancy and that they discuss patients' preferences for care. However, more physicians should be trained in communicating about patients' poor prognosis and care preferences.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBJGP Open
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020
Externally publishedYes

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