Barriers to Goal-concordant Care for Older Patients With Acute Surgical Illness: Communication Patterns Extrinsic to Decision Aids

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Abstract

Objective:

We sought to characterize patterns of communication extrinsic to a decision aid that may impede goal-concordant care.

Background:

Decision aids are designed to facilitate difficult clinical decisions by providing better treatment information. However, these interventions may not be sufficient to effectively reveal patient values and promote preference-aligned decisions for seriously ill, older adults.

Methods:

We conducted a secondary analysis of 31 decision-making conversations between surgeons and frail, older inpatients with acute surgical problems at a single tertiary care hospital. Conversations occurred before and after surgeons were trained to use a decision aid. We used directed qualitative content analysis to characterize patterns within 3 communication elements: disclosure of prognosis, elicitation of patient preferences, and integration of preferences into a treatment recommendation.

Results:

First, surgeons missed an opportunity to break bad news. By focusing on the acute surgical problem and need to make a treatment decision, surgeons failed to expose the life-limiting nature of the patient's illness. Second, surgeons asked patients to express preference for a specific treatment without gaining knowledge about the patient's priorities or exploring how patients might value specific health states or disabilities. Third, many surgeons struggled to integrate patients’ goals and values to make a treatment recommendation. Instead, they presented options and noted, “It's your decision.”

Conclusions:

A decision aid alone may be insufficient to facilitate a decision that is truly shared. Attention to elements beyond provision of treatment information has the potential to improve communication and promote goal-concordant care for seriously ill older patients.

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