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Effective communication regarding death and dying in pediatrics is a vital component of any quality palliative care service. The goal of the current study is to understand communication among health care professionals regarding death and dying in children. The three hypotheses tested were: (1) hospital staff (physicians of all disciplines, nurses, and psychosocial clinicians) that utilize consultation services are more comfortable communicating about death and dying than those who do not use such services, (2) different disciplines of health care providers demonstrate varying levels of comfort communicating about a range of areas pertaining to death and dying, and (3) health care staff that have had some type of formal training in death and dying are more comfortable communicating about these issues.
A primary analysis of a survey conducted in a tertiary care teaching children's hospital.
Health care professionals who felt comfortable discussing options for end of life care with colleagues also felt more comfortable: initiating a discussion regarding a child's impending death with his/her family (r = 0.42), discussing options for terminal care with a family (r = 0.58), discussing death with families from a variety of ethnic/cultural backgrounds (r = 0.51), guiding parents in developmentally age-appropriate discussions of death with their children (r = 0.43), identifying and seeking advice from a professional role model regarding management concerns (r = 0.40), or interacting with a family following the death of a child (r = 0.51). Among all three disciplines, physicians were more likely to initiate discussions with regards to a child's impending death (F = 13.07; p = 0.007). Health care professionals that received formal grief and bereavement training were more comfortable discussing death.
Significance of the results:
The results demonstrated that consultation practices are associated with a higher level of comfort in discussing death and dying in pediatrics.
A longitudinal pediatric palliative care curriculum was introduced into the pediatric residency program at the University of California, Los Angeles. The present study explores the possible effects of this curriculum on the interns' self-assessed comfort levels regarding caring for children with life-threatening conditions.
A newly created assessment tool was administered to interns in order to rate their comfort regarding pediatric palliative care at the beginning and conclusion of their intern year.
Twenty-two of the 29 interns completed this survey. Baseline data indicated 55% of the interns had some experience with taking care of a dying pediatric patient during their medical school training, and 79% indicated that they had taken care of a dying adult. Only 7% of the interns felt adequately prepared to deal with death and dying, but all interns indicated interest in further learning about pediatric palliative care. Comparison of the overall comfort levels of the 22 responding residents before and after the first year of training in 20 different related tasks demonstrated a significant self-assessed improvement of comfort in seven areas. There was no increase in self-reported comfort in communication related to palliative care.
Significance of results:
Residents indicated increased comfort in some areas of pediatric palliative care after the first year of their training. The underlying cause of this increased comfort is unclear at this time. The overall effect of longitudinal palliative care curriculums on residents' level of comfort in caring for this population deserves further assessment.
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