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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.
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