“Hope for the best, prepare for the worst”: A qualitative interview study on parents’ needs and fears in pediatric advance care planning

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Abstract

Background:

Pediatric advance care planning is advocated by healthcare providers because it may increase the chance that patient and/or parent wishes are respected and thus improve end-of-life care. However, since end-of-life decisions for children are particularly difficult and charged with emotions, physicians are often afraid of addressing pediatric advance care planning.

Aim:

We aimed to investigate parents’ views and needs regarding pediatric advance care planning.

Design:

We performed a qualitative interview study with parents of children who had died from a severe illness. The interviews were analyzed by descriptive and evaluation coding according to Saldaña.

Setting/Participants:

We conducted semi-structured interviews with 11 parents of 9 children. Maximum variation was sought regarding the child’s illness, age at death, care setting, and parent gender.

Results:

Parents find it difficult to engage in pediatric advance care planning but consider it important. They argue for a sensitive, individualized, and gradual approach. Hope and quality of life issues are primary. Parents have many non-medical concerns that they want to discuss. Written advance directives are considered less important, but medical emergency plans are viewed as necessary in particular cases. Continuity of care and information should be improved through regular pediatric advance care planning meetings with the various care providers. Parents emphasize the importance of a continuous contact person to facilitate pediatric advance care planning.

Conclusion:

Despite a need for pediatric advance care planning, it is perceived as challenging. Needs-adjusted content and process and continuity of communication should be a main focus in pediatric advance care planning. Future research should focus on strategies that facilitate parent engagement in pediatric advance care planning to increase the benefit for the families.

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