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Serious Illness Care Programme—contextual factors and implementation strategies: a qualitative study


Objectives The Serious Illness Care Programme (SICP) is a multicomponent evidence-based intervention that improves communication about patients’ values and goals in serious illness. We aim to characterise implementation strategies for programme delivery and the contextual factors that influence implementation in three ‘real-world’ health system SICP initiatives.

Methods We employed a qualitative thematic framework analysis of field notes collected during the first 1.5 years of implementation and a fidelity survey.

Results Analysis revealed empiric evidence about implementation and institutional context. All teams successfully implemented clinician training and an electronic health record (EHR) template for documentation of serious illness conversations. When training was used as the primary strategy to engage clinicians, however, clinician receptivity to the programme and adoption of conversations remained limited due to clinical culture-related barriers (eg, clinicians’ attitudes, motivations and practice environment). Visible leadership involvement, champion facilitation and automated EHR-based data feedback on documented conversations appeared to improve adoption. Implementing these strategies depended on contextual factors, including leadership support at the specialty level, champion resources and capacity, and EHR capabilities.

Conclusions Health systems need multifaceted implementation strategies to move beyond the limited impact of clinician training in driving improvement in serious illness conversations. These include EHR-based data feedback, involvement of specialty leaders to message the programme and align incentives, and local champions to problem-solve frontline challenges longitudinally. Implementation of these strategies depended on a favourable institutional context. Greater attention to the influence of contextual factors and implementation strategies may enable sustained improvements in serious illness conversations at scale.

  • Communication
  • End of life care
  • Service evaluation

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplemental information. N/A.

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