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Despite the potential benefits of open communication about possible desires to die for patients receiving palliative care, health professionals tend to avoid such conversations and often interpret desires to die as requests for medical aid in dying. After implementing trainings to foster an open, proactive approach toward desire to die, we requested trained health professionals to lead and document desire to die-conversations with their patients. In this article, we explore how trained health professionals experience an open (proactive) approach to desire to die-conversations with their patients.
Between April 2018 and March 2020, health professionals recorded their conversation-experiences on documentation sheets by answering seven open questions. A subsample was invited to offer deeper insights through semi-structured qualitative interviews. Interviews and documentation sheets were transcribed verbatim and analyzed thematically, then findings from both sources were compared and synthesized.
Overall, N = 29 trained health professionals documented N = 81 open desire to die-conversations. A subsample of n = 13 health professionals participated in qualitative interviews. Desire to die-conversations after the training were reported as a complex but overall enriching experience, illustrated in seven themes: (1) beneficial (e.g., establishing good rapport) and (2) hindering aspects (e.g., patients’ emotional barriers) of desire to die-conversations, (3) follow-up measures, (4) ways of addressing desire to die, as well as (5) patient reactions to it. The interviews offered space for health professionals to talk about (6) content of desire to die-conversation and (7) (self-)reflection (e.g., on patients’ biographies or own performance).
Significance of results
As part of an open (proactive) approach, desire to die-conversations hold potential for health professionals’ (self-)reflection and a deeper understanding of patient background and needs. They may lead to a strengthened health professional–patient relationship and potentially prevent suicide.
Patients in their last year of life, as well as their relatives, often feel that existent care structures of the healthcare system do not adequately address their individual needs and challenges. This study analyzes unmet needs in terms of unsolved problems and unwanted decision-making in the health and social care of patients in their last year of life from the perspective of bereaved caregivers.
This qualitative study is based on free-text comments from informal caregivers of deceased patients collected as part of the Last-Year-of-Life-Study-Cologne (LYOL-C) using a postal survey. With qualitative content analysis, a category system with main and subcategories was developed in a multi-step process.
Free-text commentaries and demographic data were collected from 240 bereaved caregivers. Particularly outside of hospice and palliative care services, study participants addressed the following unsolved problems: poor communication with medical and nursing staff, insufficient professional support for informal caregivers, inadequate psycho-social support for patients, and poor management of pain and other symptoms. Respondents often stated that their relative had to be cared for and die outside their own home, which the relative did not want.
Significance of results
Our findings suggest the necessity for greater awareness of patients’ and their relatives’ needs in the last year of life. Addressing individual needs, integrating palliative and hospice care in acute hospitals and other healthcare structures, and identifying patients in their last year of life and their caregivers could help to achieve more targeted interventions and optimization of care.
Burdensome transitions are typically defined as having a transition in the last three days or multiple hospitalizations in the last three months of life, which is seldom verified with qualitative accounts from persons concerned. This study analyses types and frequencies of transitions in the last year of life and indicators of burdensome transitions from the perspective of bereaved relatives.
Cross-sectional explanatory mixed-methods study with 351 surveyed and 41 interviewed bereaved relatives in a German urban area. Frequencies, t-tests, and Spearman correlations were computed for quantitative data. Qualitative data were analyzed using content analysis with provisional and descriptive coding/subcoding.
Transitions rise sharply during the last year of life. 8.2% of patients experience a transition in the last three days and 7.8% three or more hospitalizations in the last three months of life. An empathetic way of telling patients about the prospect of death is associated with fewer transitions in the last month of life (r = 0.185, p = 0.046). Professionals being aware of the preferred place of death corresponds to fewer hospitalizations in the last three months of life (1.28 vs. 0.97, p = 0.021). Qualitative data do not confirm that burden in transitions is linked to having transitions in the last three days or multiple hospitalizations in the last three months of life. Burden is associated with (1) late and non-empathetic communication about the prospect of death, (2) not coordinating care across settings, and (3) not considering patients’ preferences.
Significance of results
Time of occurrence and frequency appear to be imperfect proxies for burdensome transitions. The subjective burden seems to be associated rather with insufficient information, preparation, and management of transitions.
A sense of security is important in palliative home care. Yet, knowledge about which components contribute most to feeling secure from the patients’ and family caregivers’ perspectives, especially since the introduction of specialist palliative home care, is sparse. The goal of the current study was to determine the key components contributing to a sense of security and how they relate to each other as experienced by patients and family caregivers in specialist and generalist palliative home care.
The current sub-study, as part of a larger study, was performed in different regions in Germany. Palliative care patients and family caregivers of at least 18 years of age, being cared for at home were interviewed using semi-structured interview guides following a three-factor model and analyzed by using a combined quantitative-qualitative-content approach.
One hundred and ninty-seven patients and 10 carers completed interviews between December 2017 and April 2019. The majority of patients were diagnosed with an oncological disease. Sense of security was mentioned particularly often suggesting its high relevance. We identified nine subcategories that were all mentioned more frequently by specialist than generalist palliative home care recipients in the following order of priority and relation: (i) patient-centeredness: availability, provision of information/education, professional competence, patient empowerment, and trust (ii) organizational work: comprehensive responsibility, external collaboration, and internal cooperation, and (iii) direct communication.
Significance of results
The work of specialist palliative home care services in particular was perceived as very effective and beneficial. Our findings confirm a previously developed three-factor model allowing for generalizability and revealed that availability was most important for improving the sense of security for effective palliative home care.
Patients’ desire to die (DD) is rarely discussed in palliative care (PC) due to health professionals’ (HPs) feeling of uncertainty. The aim of the study was to develop and evaluate a training to increase HPs’ self-confidence in responding professionally to patient's DD and to assess the feasibility of this approach.
The training course was developed via focus groups and relevant literature and refined with an advisory board. An evaluation design was developed to evaluate training outcomes and to examine feasibility. To assess self-confidence, knowledge, skills, and attitudes: (1) standardized surveys were applied at T1 (before training), T2 (directly after), and T3 (3 months later), and were analyzed by descriptive and non-parametric statistics; and (2) participants’ open feedback was summarized by content.
A two-day multi-disciplinary training was developed to improve self-confidence via diverse teaching methods. Twenty-four HPs from general and specialized PC were participated. Via self-rating on Likert scales at three time points, improvements were seen at T1, T2, and partly remained at T3, especially in the overall item of self-confidence in communicating with patients about their DD (means: 4.3. at T1, 5.7 at T2, and 5.9 at T3; on a 7-point scale with 1 = lowest value and 7 = highest value). Fewer improvements were found in skills (using different approaches) and attitudes (feeling less helplessness). Open feedback revealed a high appreciation for the training, especially the composition of participants, the role-play, and the overall increase of awareness of the topic.
Significance of results
The developed training on addressing DD meets a need and was perceived by the participants to be of added value. Future research should measure training effects with a validated instrument, including more participants, diverse participant groups, and a control group. Effects on patients should be assessed.
We aimed to elucidate the views on life as narrated by patients in palliative care (PC) to find out what patients deem to be essential in their life, whether something has changed concerning their view of life in light of the disease, and whether interviewees would like to give others something to take with them.
Data were collected from narrative audio and video interviews with 18 inpatients in a specialized PC unit. Interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim and analyzed using qualitative content analysis applying MAXQDA software. CDs and DVDs with recorded interviews were provided to patients.
Eighteen interviews were analyzed: 11 audio and 7 video recordings. The age range was 41–80 years. Patients reported on changes in their views on life. Despite it being a complex and painful process, patients still gave examples of benefits experienced during their illness trajectory. Patients identified resources and coping strategies such as meaningful contacts with close others and mindfulness. Shifts have occurred in terms of taking more time for themselves, enjoying the moment, being more calm, and spending more time with family and friends. What patients wanted to pass on to others was to pay attention to the needs of both the self and the others, shape your life individually, confront yourself early with issues of death and dying, and care for your fellow human beings. Patients and relatives valued the opportunity to keep their interview as a CD/DVD.
Significance of results
Results support the idea that many people facing terminal illness continue to focus on living and remain within their biographies and the contexts of their lives, even if their functional status declines. Patients and relatives appreciated that interviews were provided as kind of a legacy. Yet, more robust research is needed to decide whether such interviews yield any therapeutic effect.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) patients' caregivers are sometimes considered as “hidden patients.” How much more this might be true for caregivers of severely affected MS patients has so far been scarcely studied. Palliative care also addressing relatives' needs might therefore be very relevant for these caregivers. However, we do not yet know which unmet needs they have and how these could be met. Our aim was to gain an insight into the subjectively unmet needs of caregivers of severely affected MS patients in Germany.
The study employed a qualitative cross-sectional approach for assessing unmet needs. Twelve caregivers of severely affected MS patients were recruited using a convenience sampling approach. Face-to-face interviews were conducted, audiotaped, and transcribed verbatim, followed by qualitative content analysis.
Unmet needs were sorted into the following categories: “relationship to physician,” “individual support by the healthcare system,” “relationship to the individual severely affected by MS,” “end-of-life issues,” “self-care,” and “higher awareness of MS.” Caregivers tended to group the unmet needs of their care recipients with their own and rarely focused on their own wishes and restrictions.
Significance of Results:
A close patient–caregiver dyad makes it difficult to differentiate unmet caregiver needs. However, the palliative care approach might help caregivers of severely affected MS patients by answering questions on disease progress and end-of-life issues, as well as by offering respite care, support for self-care, and help in preserving one's identity, and also anticipating the time to come after the death.
Research findings suggest that patients severely affected by multiple sclerosis benefit from palliative care. Our objectives were to (1) implement a pilot palliative care counseling hotline for severely affected multiple sclerosis patients and their caregivers in order to connect them to palliative care, and (2) evaluate its preliminary feasibility through a pilot study.
The hotline was designed in cooperation with the local state association of the German Multiple Sclerosis Society and based on a review of the literature. The initial study setting for the hotline was the broader region of the cities Cologne and Bonn in Germany. The hotline was introduced through a magazine published by the German Multiple Sclerosis Society and leaflets sent to local healthcare providers. Calls were conducted using a semistructured interview guide and documented by a standardized case report form. Measures to assess feasibility were both quantitative (e.g., number of calls) and qualitative (e.g., criteria for eligibility for palliative care).
During its pilot year, the hotline received 18 calls. Some 15 callers were included in the analysis, and 10 of these 15 were deemed eligible for palliative care due to such criteria as medical characteristics, care or nursing conditions, caregiver strain, and concerns regarding death and dying. Access to palliative care services could be provided for all 10 callers.
Significance of results:
Based on our pilot feasibility study, the hotline seems to be a valuable service for patients severely affected by multiple sclerosis (MS) and their caregivers in order to gain information about and access to palliative care. It will be extended on a nationwide scale through a grant of the German Multiple Sclerosis Society. Awareness of the hotline needs to be enhanced in order to attract and support a significant number of new callers.
Reliable and validated instruments are needed in order to study the desire for hastened death (DHD). As there is no instrument in the German language to measure DHD, our aim was to validate a German version of the Schedule of Attitudes Toward Hastened Death (SAHD–D).
The SAHD was translated following guidelines promulgated by the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC). In eligible patients (clinical situation adequate, MMSE ≥21), the following instruments were employed: a symptom checklist (HOPE), the HADS–D (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale), the EORTC-QLQ-PAL15, and the SAHD–D, as well as an external estimation of DHD provided by the attending physician. A high level of DHD was defined as the mean plus one standard deviation (SD).
Of the 869 patients assessed, 92 were eligible for inclusion (66% females, mean age of 64.5 years). The SAHD–D total score ranged from 0 to 18, with a mean of 5 and a standard deviation (SD) of 3.7. A high level of DHD was found in 20% (n = 19). For discriminant validity, significant correlations were found between the SAHD–D and depression (rrho = 0.472), anxiety (rrho = 0.224), and clinical state (rrho = 0.178). For criterion validity, the external estimate of DHD showed a low significant correlation with patient score (rrho = 0.290). Factor analysis of the SAHD–D identified two factors.
Significance of results:
Validation of the SAHD–D illustrated good discriminant validity, confirming that a desire to hasten death is a construct separate from depression, anxiety, or physical state. The unidimensionality of the SAHD could not be reproduced. Our findings support the multifactorial interdependencies on DHD and suggest that the SAHD–D should be refined by considering actual wishes, general attitudes, and options of patients.
People feeling severely affected by multiple sclerosis (MS) comprise a heterogeneous group, and this heterogeneity leads to very distinct needs and makes planning for needs difficult. To provide optimal care, it is important to identify specific needs in specific subgroups. Our objective was to identify the specific palliative care (PC) needs of patients who felt severely affected by the disease by analyzing their feeling (1) more or (2) less severely affected and their possible differences in expressed care needs.
A self-report questionnaire with 25 needs categories including 7 categories pertaining to care was applied to patients who felt severely affected by MS. An additional single question identified patients feeling more (≥7, median-split) and less (<7) severely affected. Differences were analyzed by chi-squared and Mann–Whitney U tests. The sample (N = 573) was composed of respondents who replied to an invitation by the German Multiple Sclerosis Society to participate in a survey on unmet needs of severely affected patients.
Of 573 patients (median age 51), 358 (62.48%) felt more severely affected. Compared to patients feeling less severely affected, they found the stress on their next of kin to be higher (p < 0.001), were in greater need of home visitation (p < 0.001), did not have permanent neurologists (p = 0.016), and felt that they visited them too rarely (p < 0.0001). They also needed more emotional support from their nursing care service (p = 0.006).
Significance of results:
A self-rating scale can identify two groups of patients with different care needs. These data may help shaping patient-centered support structures. Palliative care, with its multidisciplinary approach, might be one further option to meet the specific needs of patients and their relatives.
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