How continuity of care is experienced within the context of integrated palliative care: A qualitative study with patients and family caregivers in five European countries

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Background:Patients with advanced diseases often experience deficient continuity of care. Although integrated palliative care promotes continuity of care, it is not clear how it can be optimized to improve continuity of care experiences.Aim:To examine how relational, informational and management continuity of care are experienced by patients with advanced diseases and their family caregivers receiving care from several integrated palliative care initiatives in five European countries.Design:We adopted a longitudinal qualitative study design including two interviews (interval 3 months) with patients and family caregivers focusing on how health care professionals responded to their needs. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Analysis involved a two-step qualitative content approach.Setting/participants:A total of 22 integrated palliative care initiatives (established local palliative care collaborations) were selected in Belgium, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. We recruited 152 patients (63% cancer, 24% chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 13% heart failure; life expectancy <1 year; mean age 68 years, 56% female) and 92 family caregivers (mean age 61 years, 66% female).Results:Trusted relationships with a small number of key health care professionals to receive tailored care and easily access help were essential. Relational continuity was often deficient, especially with general practitioners. Although informational and management continuity was often lacking in care provision, collaborative integrated palliative care initiatives were related to consistent and coherent care.Conclusion:Patients and family caregivers most likely experience continuity of care by having a small number of trusted health care professionals who are available, provide multidisciplinary care and regularly transfer information to all health care professionals involved. Optimizing continuity of care requires further integration of integrated palliative care initiatives with other health care professionals involved in the patients’ care networks.

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