Advance care planning conversations with palliative patients: looking through the GP's eyes.BMC Fam Pract. 2018 11 28; 19(1):184.BF
Although it is often recommended that general practitioners (GPs) initiate advance care planning (ACP), little is known about their experiences with ACP. This study aimed to identify GP experiences when conducting ACP conversations with palliative patients, and what factors influence these experiences.
Dutch GPs (N = 17) who had participated in a training on timely ACP were interviewed. Data from these interviews were analysed using direct content analysis.
Four themes were identified: ACP and society, the GP's perceived role in ACP, initiating ACP and tailor-made ACP. ACP was regarded as a 'hot topic'. At the same time, a tendency towards a society in which death is not a natural part of life was recognized, making it difficult to start ACP discussions. Interviewees perceived having ACP discussions as a typical GP task. They found initiating and timing ACP easier with proactive patients, e.g. who are anxious of losing capacity, and much more challenging when it concerned patients with COPD or heart failure. Patients still being treated in hospital posed another difficulty, because they often times are not open to discussion. Furthermore, interviewees emphasized that taking into account changing wishes and the fact that not everything can be anticipated, is of the utmost importance. Moreover, when patients are not open to ACP, at a certain point it should be granted that choosing not to know, for example about where things are going or what possible ways of care planning might be, is also a form of autonomy.
ACP currently is a hot topic, which has favourable as well as unfavourable effects. As GPs experience difficulties in initiating ACP if patients are being treated in the hospital, future research could focus on a multidisciplinary ACP approach and the role of medical specialists in ACP. Furthermore, when starting ACP with palliative patients, we recommend starting with current issues. In doing so, a start can be made with future issues kept in view. Although the tension between ACP's focus on the patient's direction and the right not to know can be difficult, ACP has to be tailored to each individual patient.