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Few studies have examined the challenges faced by emergency medicine (EM) physicians in conducting goals of care discussions. This study is the first to describe the perceived barriers and facilitators to these discussions as reported by Canadian EM physicians and residents.
A team of EM, palliative care, and internal medicine physicians developed a survey comprising multiple choice, Likert-scale and open-ended questions to explore four domains of goals-of-care discussions: training; communication; environment; and patient beliefs.
Surveys were sent to 273 EM staff and residents in six sites, and 130 (48%) responded. Staff physicians conducted goals-of-care discussions several times per month or more, 74.1% (80/108) of the time versus 35% (8/23) of residents. Most agreed that goals-of-care discussions are within their scope of practice (92%), they felt comfortable having these discussions (96%), and they are adequately trained (73%). However, 66% reported difficulty initiating goals-of-care discussions, and 54% believed that admitting services should conduct them. Main barriers were time (46%), lack of a relationship with the patient (25%), patient expectations (23%), no prior discussions (21%), and the inability to reach substitute decision-makers (17%). Fifty-four percent of respondents indicated that the availability of 24-hour palliative care consults would facilitate discussions in the emergency department (ED).
Important barriers to discussing goals of care in the ED were identified by respondents, including acuity and lack of prior relationship, highlighting the need for system and environmental interventions, including improved availability of palliative care services in the ED.
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