Objective: To describe the utility and acceptability to general practitioners and palliative care staff of case conferences in palliative care.
Method: Research focussed on case conferences conducted between GPs and staff of three specialist palliative care units (in an inner urban, outer metropolitan and regional setting), at the time of referral of patients to the service. Telephone interviews were conducted with all GPs who participated in a case conference, and focus groups were conducted with palliative care staff.
Results: For most GPs, case conferences by teleconference were a time effective and immediate means of information transfer. The best instances for a conference were at time of patient referral, time of discharge to the community, or where the case was complex. General practitioners appreciated access to multiple professionals simultaneously. Workload pressures were a drawback of participation for both GPs and specialists. Palliative care team members thought case conferences gave GPs an appreciation of a team approach, and reduced professional isolation. The usefulness of the case conferences depended on the willingness of the GP to participate. General practitioners would participate again provided they did not have to organise the case conference. Specialist staff were concerned by the financial cost of organising case conferences.
Discussion: Case conferences provide useful information exchange between GPs and specialist staff, and are acceptable to both parties. Much depends on the individual GPs attitude toward participation, as well as the timing of the conferences in the course of the patient's illness. Organisation needs to be a task of the specialist units, who would need administrative support to organise them.