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General practitioners’ engagement in end-of-life care: a semi-structured interview study

Abstract

Background Early identification of approaching end-of-life and care planning improve outcomes at the end of life. Nevertheless, the majority of people who die are not identified in time to enable appropriate care planning. We aimed to describe the challenges general practitioners (GPs) found in providing end-of-life care; what prompted GPs to identify and discuss approaching end of life with their patient and how their practice changed.

Methods We conducted a qualitative study of 15 Australian GPs using semi-structured interviews, examining end-of-life care of one of their randomly selected, deceased patients. Interviews were analysed using a general inductive approach.

Results When a life-limiting prognosis was articulated, GPs integrated end-of-life care into their clinical care directly. Care often included a care plan developed in consultation with the patient. Even when death was not articulated, GPs were aware of approaching end of life and changed their focus to comfort of the patient. GPs generally had an informal care plan in mind, but this developed gradually and without discussing these plans with the patient. How GPs provided end-of-life care depended primarily on patient traits (eg, willingness to discuss physical decline) and the GP’s characteristics (eg, experience, training and consulting style).

Conclusions GPs were aware of their patients’ approaching end of life and care was adjusted accordingly. However, under certain circumstances this was not explicitly articulated and discussed. It is not clear if implicit but unarticulated end-of-life care is sufficient to meet patients’ needs. Future studies should investigate this.

  • palliative care
  • terminal care
  • general practice
  • advance care planning
  • qualitative research
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