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Few decision aids are available for patients with a serious illness who face many treatment and end-of-life decisions. We evaluated the Looking Ahead: Choices for Medical Care When You're Seriously Ill® patient decision aid (PtDA), one component of an early palliative care clinical trial.
Our participants included individuals with advanced cancer and their caregivers who had participated in the ENABLE (Educate, Nurture, Advise, Before Life Ends) early palliative care telehealth randomized controlled trial (RCT) conducted in a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical center, and affiliated outreach clinics in rural New England. ENABLE included six weekly patient and three weekly family caregiver structured sessions. Participants watched the Looking Ahead PtDA prior to session 3, which covered content on decision making and advance care planning. Nurse coaches employed semistructured interviews to obtain feedback from consecutive patient and caregiver participants approximately one week after viewing the Looking Ahead PtDA program (booklet and DVD).
Between April 1, 2011, and October 31, 2012, 57 patients (mean age = 64), 42% of whom had lung and 23% gastrointestinal cancer, and 20 caregivers (mean age = 59), 80% of whom were spouses, completed the PtDA evaluation. Participants reported a high degree of satisfaction with the PtDA format, as well as with its length and clarity. They found the format of using patient interviews “validating.” The key themes were: (1) “the earlier the better” to view the PtDA; (2) feeling empowered, aware of different options, and an urgency to participate in advance care planning.
Significance of results:
The Looking Ahead PtDA was well received and helped patients with a serious illness realize the importance of prospective decision making in guiding their treatment pathways. We found that this PtDA can help seriously ill patients prior to the end of life to understand and discuss future healthcare decision making. However, systems to routinely provide PtDAs to seriously ill patients are yet not well developed.
Caregivers of patients with advanced cancer experience physical and emotional strain that can raise their own risk for morbidity and mortality. This analysis was performed to determine whether ENABLE II, a patient-focused palliative care intervention that increased patients' quality of life, reduced symptom intensity, and lowered depressed mood compared to usual care, would affect caregiver burden.
Caregivers of patients with advanced cancer from the parent study completed a caregiver burden scale and patients completed quality of life, symptom intensity, and depressed mood measures. Data were collected at baseline, 1 month, and every 3 months thereafter until patient death or the study ended. Decedents' caregivers were asked to complete an after-death interview regarding the quality of care that the patient received.
There were no significant differences in caregiver burden between intervention and usual care conditions. Follow-up analyses showed that higher caregiver objective burden and stress burden were related to lower patient quality of life, higher symptom intensity, and higher depressed mood. Caregivers who perceived that patients had unmet needs at end of life reported higher objective burden, and those who perceived that patients were not treated with respect reported higher demand burden.
Significance of results:
The results indicate that a successful patient-focused intervention did not have a similar beneficial effect on caregiver burden. Future interventions should focus on caregivers as well as patients, with particular attention to caregivers' perceptions of patient care, and seek to change both negative and positive effects of informal caregiving.
There is a paucity of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to evaluate models of palliative care. Although interventions vary, all have faced a variety of methodological challenges including adequate recruitment, missing data, and contamination of the control group. We describe the ENABLE II intervention, methods, and sample baseline characteristics to increase intervention and methodological transparency, and to describe our solutions to selected methodological issues.
Half of the participants recruited from our rural U.S. comprehensive cancer center and affiliated clinics were randomly assigned to a phone-based, nurse-led educational, care coordination palliative care intervention model. Intervention services were provided to half of the participants weekly for the first month and then monthly until death, including bereavement follow-up call to the caregiver. The other half of the participants were assigned to care as usual. Symptoms, quality of life, mood, and functional status were assessed every 3 months until death.
Baseline data of 279 participants were similar to normative samples. Solutions to methodological challenges of recruitment, missing data, and “usual care” control group contamination are described.
Significance of results:
It is feasible to overcome many of the methodological challenges to conducting a rigorous palliative care RCT.
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