Abstract 166: End-of-Life Situations in Cardiology A Qualitative Study of Physicians and Nurses’ Experience in a Large University Hospital in France

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Introduction: With advances in medication and device therapy for heart failure pts, the number of end-of-life situations encountered in cardiology is rising. We aimed to understand perceptions and attitudes of medical and paramedical staff regarding end-of-life situations using a qualitative approach.Methods: Single-centre, qualitative study using semi-directive interviews with physicians, nurses and nurses’ aides in a university hospital cardiology unit. Participants were invited to describe experiences and feelings about end-of-life situations. Interviews were transcribed in full and analyzed using thematic analysis.Results: 13 physicians, 16 nurses and 5 nurses’ aides were interviewed. The main themes that arose in the discourse were the frequency, the type of death (emergency vs chronic disease), the value of the pt’s life, the positive effect of communication, and the rarity of advance directives (AD). The majority felt that end-of-life situations are increasingly frequent, and their management has improved. Cardiology was felt to be a highly technical discipline where death is generally rapid; otherwise, for pts with end-stage heart failure, the course of disease allows time to anticipate end of life issues. Nurses tend to engage in a degree of “coaxing” to persuade physicians to move from a curative to a palliative frame of mind, particularly in the cardiac intensive care unit. The perceived value of the pt’s life plays a role in the level of therapeutic engagement, with younger patients receiving more intensive resuscitation manoeuvers, whereas oldest-old patients are more rapidly labelled as “end of life” cases. Communication was felt to be key to ensuring that pt, family and healthcare workers (HCW) are all in agreement regarding clinical status and likely outcome. Nurses in particular can suffer considerable distress when their opinions regarding the pt’s status or wishes are not taken into account by the physicians, or when they are asked to continue invasive therapies for a pt they consider to be at the end-of-life. Poor communication was felt to engender suffering both among HCW and families; and lack of time was cited as a frequent cause. AD were not unanimously considered useful; some felt that discussing end-of-life may be more harmful than helpful, and overall, AD remain infrequent in our unit. The pt’s wishes are taken into account if possible, but some believe the pt is not qualified to know what can be done, and in such cases, their wishes may be disregarded as inappropriate to the clinical situation.Conclusions: Most participants felt that management of end-of-life has greatly improved in terms of pain relief and communication. Poor communication remains prevalent and can be a source of suffering for patients, families and caregivers, especially nurses.

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