Barriers to advance care planning in cancer, heart failure and dementia patients: a focus group study on general practitioners' views and experiences

PLoS One. 2014 Jan 21;9(1):e84905. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0084905. eCollection 2014.


Background: The long-term and often lifelong relationship of general practitioners (GPs) with their patients is considered to make them the ideal initiators of advance care planning (ACP). However, in general the incidence of ACP discussions is low and ACP seems to occur more often for cancer patients than for those with dementia or heart failure.

Objective: To identify the barriers, from GPs' perspective, to initiating ACP and to gain insight into any differences in barriers between the trajectories of patients with cancer, heart failure and dementia.

Method: Five focus groups were held with GPs (n = 36) in Flanders, Belgium. The focus group discussions were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using the method of constant comparative analysis.

Results: THREE TYPES OF BARRIERS WERE DISTINGUISHED: barriers relating to the GP, to the patient and family and to the health care system. In cancer patients, a GP's lack of knowledge about treatment options and the lack of structural collaboration between the GP and specialist were expressed as barriers. Barriers that occured more often with heart failure and dementia were the lack of GP familiarity with the terminal phase, the lack of key moments to initiate ACP, the patient's lack of awareness of their diagnosis and prognosis and the fact that patients did not often initiate such discussions themselves. The future lack of decision-making capacity of dementia patients was reported by the GPs as a specific barrier for the initiation of ACP.

Conclusion: The results of our study contribute to a better understanding of the factors hindering GPs in initiating ACP. Multiple barriers need to be overcome, of which many can be addressed through the development of practical guidelines and educational interventions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Advance Care Planning / organization & administration*
  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Belgium
  • Dementia / psychology
  • Dementia / therapy
  • Female
  • Focus Groups*
  • General Practitioners / organization & administration
  • General Practitioners / psychology*
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Heart Failure / psychology
  • Heart Failure / therapy
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / psychology
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*

Grants and funding

This study is part of the 'Flanders Study to Improve End-of-Life Care and Evaluation Tools (FLIECE-project)', a collaboration between the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Ghent University, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, and VU University Medical Centre Amsterdam, the Netherlands. This study is supported by a grant from the Flemish government agency for Innovation by Science and Technology (Agentschap voor Innovatie door Wetenschap en Technologie) (SBO IWT nr. 100036). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.