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Serious Illness Conversations in advanced kidney disease: a mixed-methods implementation study

Abstract

Objective Advanced kidney disease is associated with a high risk of morbidity and mortality. Consequently, invasive treatments such as dialysis may not yield survival benefits. Advance care planning has been encouraged. However, whether such discussions are acceptable when done earlier, before end-stage kidney treatment decision-making occurs, is unclear. This pilot study aimed to explore whether use of the Serious Illness Conversation Guide to aid early advance care planning is acceptable, and to evaluate the information gained from these conversations.

Methods Patients with advanced kidney disease (stage 3B and above) and high mortality risk at 2 years were enrolled in this mixed-methods study from an academic nephrology clinic. Semi-structured interviews were conducted using the adapted Serious Illness Conversation Guide. Thematic analysis was used to assess patients’ perceptions of the conversation. Participants completed a questionnaire assessing conversation acceptability.

Results Twenty-six patients participated, 50% were female. Participants felt that the conversation guide helped them reflect on their prognosis, goals of care and treatment preferences. Most did not feel that the conversation provoked anxiety (23/26, 88%) nor that it decreased hopefulness (24/26, 92%). Some challenges were elicited; patients expressed cognitive dissonance with the kidney disease severity due to lack of symptoms; had difficulty conceptualising their goals of care; and vocalised fear of personal failure without attempting dialysis.

Conclusions Patients in this pilot study found the adapted Serious Illness Conversation Guide acceptable. This guide may be used with patients early in the course of advanced kidney disease to gather information for future advanced care planning.

  • chronic conditions
  • renal failure
  • communication
  • clinical decisions

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