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Limitations in health professionals’ knowledge of end-of-life law: a cross-sectional survey


Background Insufficient knowledge about end-of-life law can impede the provision of safe and high-quality end-of-life care. Accurate legal knowledge across health professions is critical in palliative and end-of-life settings given the reliance on multidisciplinary care. Most research has focused on doctors, finding significant knowledge gaps. The limited evidence about other health professions also suggests legal knowledge deficits.

Objective To determine and compare levels of knowledge about end-of-life law across a broad sample of Australian health professionals and medical students, and to identify predictors of legal knowledge.

Methods An online pre-training survey was completed by participants enrolled in a national training programme on end-of-life law. The optional survey collected demographic data and measured baseline legal knowledge and attitudes towards end-of-life law.

Results Response rate was 67% (1653/2456). The final sample for analysis (n=1564, 95% of respondents), included doctors, medical students, nurses and a range of allied health professionals. Doctors and nurses had slightly higher levels of legal knowledge than did medical students and allied health professionals; all had critical knowledge gaps. Demographic and professional characteristics predicted knowledge levels, with experience of end-of-life law in practice, confidence applying law and recent continuing professional development being positively associated with legal knowledge.

Conclusions This study provides new evidence about legal knowledge across a broad range of health professions. While knowledge levels varied somewhat across professions, knowledge gaps were observed in all professional groups. Education and training initiatives to enhance knowledge of end-of-life law should be tailored to meet the specific needs of each profession.

Data availability statement

As data collection is ongoing, data from the study are not available. However, additional information regarding the findings presented can be requested from the corresponding author.

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