A qualitative analysis of the elements used by palliative care clinicians when formulating a survival estimate

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Abstract

Objective

For patients with advanced and/or incurable disease, clinicians are often called upon to formulate and communicate an estimate of likely survival duration. The objective of this study was to gain a deeper appreciation of this process by identifying and exploring the specific elements that may inform and/or impact a clinician's estimate of survival (CES).

Methods

Semistructured interviews were conducted among a group of palliative care clinicians in the setting of a tertiary academic health sciences centre. Qualitative data were subsequently analysed using a grounded theory approach.

Results

Five major themes were identified as being central to the process of CES formulation: use of objective patient-specific elements, strength of the patient-clinician relationship, purpose and context of an individual CES, perceived role of hope and the overall likelihood of CES inaccuracy.

Conclusions

For any given patient, several elements have the potential to inform and/or impact the process of CES formulation. Study participants were aware of objective clinical factors known to correlate with actual survival duration and likely integrate this information when formulating a CES. Formulation occurs within a larger context comprised of a number of elements that may influence individual estimates. These elements exist against a background of awareness of the overall likelihood of CES inaccuracy. Clinicians are encouraged to develop a personalised and standardised approach to CES formulation whereby an awareness of the menu of potentially impacting elements is consciously integrated into an individual process.

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