Doctors’ reports about palliative systemic treatment: A medical record study

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Abstract

Background:

Decisions about palliative systemic treatment are key elements of palliative and end-of-life care. Such decisions must often be made in complex, clinical situations.

Aim:

To explore the content of medical records of patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer and pancreatic cancer with specific emphasis on doctors’ notes about decisions on palliative systemic treatment.

Design:

Medical record review (2009–2012) of 147 cancer patients containing 276 notes about palliative systemic treatment. We described the proportion of notes/medical records containing pre-specified items relevant to palliative systemic treatment. We selected patients using the nationwide Netherlands Cancer Registry.

Setting:

Hospital based.

Results:

About 75% of all notes reported doctors’ considerations to start/continue palliative systemic treatment, including information about the prognosis (47%), possible survival gain (22%), patients’ wish for palliative systemic treatment (33%), impact on quality of life (8%), and patient’s age (3%). Comorbidity (82%), smoking status (78%) and drinking behaviour (63%) were more often documented than patients’ performance status (16%). Conversations with the patient/family about palliative systemic treatment were reported in 49% of all notes. Response measurements and dose adaptations were documented in 75% and 71% of patients who received palliative systemic treatment respectively.

Conclusion:

Medical records provide insight into the decision-making process about palliative systemic treatment. The content and detail of doctors’ notes, however, widely varies especially concerning their palliative systemic treatment considerations. Registries that aim to measure the quality of (end-of-life) care must be aware of this outcome. Future research should further explore how medical records can best assist in evaluating the quality of the decision-making process in the patient’s final stage of life.

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