Background: Effective communication is considered to be essential for the delivery of high-quality care. Communication in palliative care may be particularly difficult, and there is still no accepted set of communication skills for GPs in providing palliative care.
Aim: To obtain detailed information on facilitators and barriers for GP-patient communication in palliative care, with the aim to develop training programmes that enable GPs to improve their palliative care communication skills.
Design of study: Qualitative study with focus groups, interviews, and questionnaires.
Setting: GPs with patients receiving palliative care at home, and end-of-life consultants in the Netherlands.
Method: GP (n = 20) focus groups discussing facilitators and barriers, palliative care patient (n = 6) interviews regarding facilitators, and end-of-life consultant (n = 22) questionnaires concerning barriers.
Results: Facilitators reported by both GPs and patients were accessibility, taking time, commitment, and listening carefully. GPs emphasise respect, while patients want GPs to behave in a friendly way, and to take the initiative to discuss end-of-life issues. Barriers reported by both GPs and end-of-life consultants were: difficulty in dealing with former doctors' delay and strong demands from patients' relatives. GPs report difficulty in dealing with strong emotions and troublesome doctor-patient relationships, while consultants report insufficient clarification of patients' problems, promises that could not be kept, helplessness, too close involvement, and insufficient anticipation of various scenarios.
Conclusion: The study findings suggest that the quality of GP-patient communication in palliative care in the Netherlands can be improved. It is recommended that specific communication training programmes for GPs should be developed and evaluated.