Patient Self-Defined Goals: Essentials of Person-Centered Care for Serious Illness

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Abstract

This research, a descriptive qualitative analysis of self-defined serious illness goals, expands the knowledge of what goals are important beyond the physical—making existing disease-specific guidelines more holistic. Integration of goals of care discussions and documentation is standard for quality palliative care but not consistently executed into general and specialty practice. Over 14 months, lay health-care workers (care guides) provided monthly supportive visits for 160 patients with advanced heart failure, cancer, and dementia expected to die in 2 to 3 years. Care guides explored what was most important to patients and documented their self-defined goals on a medical record flow sheet. Using definitions of an expanded set of whole-person domains adapted from the National Consensus Project (NCP) Clinical Practice Guidelines for Quality Palliative Care, 999 goals and their associated plans were deductively coded and examined. Four themes were identified—medical, nonmedical, multiple, and global. Forty percent of goals were coded into the medical domain; 40% were coded to nonmedical domains—social (9%), ethical (7%), family (6%), financial/legal (5%), psychological (5%), housing (3%), legacy/bereavement (3%), spiritual (1%), and end-of-life care (1%). Sixteen percent of the goals were complex and reflected a mix of medical and nonmedical domains, “multiple” goals. The remaining goals (4%) were too global to attribute to an NCP domain. Self-defined serious illness goals express experiences beyond physical health and extend into all aspects of whole person. It is feasible to elicit and record serious illness goals. This approach to goals can support meaningful person-centered care, decision-making, and planning that accords with individual preferences of late life.

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