Emergency department staff priorities for improving palliative care provision for older people: A qualitative study

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Emergency department–based palliative care services are increasing, but research to develop these services rarely includes input from emergency clinicians, jeopardizing the effectiveness of subsequent palliative care interventions.


To collaboratively identify with emergency clinicians’ improvement priorities for emergency department–based palliative care for older people.


This was one component of an experience-based co-design project, conducted using semi-structured interviews and feedback sessions.


In-depth interviews with 15 emergency clinicians (nurses and doctors) at a large teaching hospital emergency department in the United Kingdom exploring experiences of palliative care delivery for older people. A thematic analysis identified core challenges that were presented to 64 clinicians over five feedback sessions, validating interview findings, and identifying shared priorities for improving palliative care delivery.


Eight challenges emerged: patient age; access to information; communication with patients, family members, and clinicians; understanding of palliative care; role uncertainty; complex systems and processes; time constraints; and limited training and education. Through feedback sessions, clinicians selected four challenges as improvement priorities: time constraints; communication and information; systems and processes; and understanding of palliative care. As resulting improvement plans evolved, “training and education” replaced “time constraints” as a priority.


Clinician priorities for improving emergency department–based palliative care were identified through collaborative, iterative processes. Though generally aware of older palliative patients’ needs, clinicians struggled to provide high-quality care due to a range of complex factors. Further research should identify whether priorities are shared across other emergency departments, and develop, implement, and evaluate strategies developed by clinicians.

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