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Chinese perspective on end-of-life communication: a systematic review


Background Palliative care providers serving Chinese patients lack a culture-specific model of communication, a strong evidence base for this and clear guidance on its application. Thus, providers find it challenging to address patients’ dignity, and determine their priorities and preferences for treatments and care, at the patients’ final stage of life.

Aim This study explores the culture-specific influences and current understanding of end-of-life (EOL) communication in the Chinese context.

Methods A qualitative systematic review of qualitative studies was conducted according to Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines. PsycINFO, PubMed and ERIC databases were searched for studies between January 1994 and July 2019, using keywords ‘end of life’, ‘terminal care’, ‘communication’ and ‘Chinese’. Included studies were appraised with Critical Appraisal Skills Programme criteria.

Results The search strategy yielded 982 entries and 13 studies were included. Six themes were identified in EOL communication in the Chinese context: (1) Chinese philosophies on the meaning of ‘good death’. (2) Negative attitudes towards communication on dying. (3) EOL communication as a taboo topic. (4) Clinician-centred approaches to treatment-decision making. (5) Family expectations being prioritised over patient self-autonomy in prognosis disclosure. (6) Care-providers expressing puzzlement over cultural preferences regarding EOL communication.

Conclusions The review detailed the complexity of EOL communication in the Chinese context, urging for a communication model distinct from Western-based practices. Future research could explore a validated communication framework that addresses the local culture, thus enabling an understanding of patients’ priorities and interpreting EOL encounters from a cross-cultural perspective.

  • end of life care
  • cancer
  • communication
  • terminal care

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