Exploring public awareness and perceptions of palliative care: a qualitative study

Palliat Med. 2014 Mar;28(3):273-80. doi: 10.1177/0269216313502372. Epub 2013 Sep 11.


Background: Research suggests that the public appear to be confused about the meaning of palliative care. Given the ageing population and associated increase in the number of patients requiring palliative care, it is vital to explore the public's understanding of this concept. Health-promoting palliative care seeks to translate hospice and palliative care ideals into broader public health practice.

Aim: To explore public perceptions of palliative care and identify strategies to raise awareness.

Design: An exploratory qualitative approach.

Participants: Semi-structured telephone interviews were undertaken (N = 50) with members of the public who volunteered to participate in the study. The interviews focused on knowledge and perceptions of palliative care, expectations of palliative care services and the identification of strategies to raise public awareness of palliative care. The interviews were audio recorded and content analysed.

Results: Most participants had a general knowledge of palliative care, largely influenced by their own personal experience. They identified that palliative care was about caring for people who were dying and maintaining comfort in the last days of life. Participant's expectations of services included the following: holistic support, symptom management, good communication and practical support to enable choice and carer support. Key aspects identified for promoting palliative care were the development of understanding and use of the term itself and targeted educational strategies.

Conclusion: Experience of palliative care generates understanding in the general public who also have ideas for increasing knowledge and awareness. The findings can inform policymakers about strategies to raise public awareness of palliative care.

Keywords: Palliative care; health-promoting palliative care; public awareness; public health; telephone interviews.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Awareness*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Northern Ireland
  • Palliative Care*
  • Patient Education as Topic / methods
  • Public Opinion
  • Qualitative Research
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult