How do we deal with multiple goals for care within an individual patient trajectory? A document content analysis of health service research papers on goals for care

BMJ Open. 2015 Dec 10;5(12):e009403. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2015-009403.


Objectives: Patients with complex long-term needs experience multiple parallel care processes, which may have conflicting or competing goals, within their individual patient trajectory (iPT). The alignment of multiple goals is often implicit or non-existent, and has received little attention in the literature.

Research questions: (1) What goals for care relevant for the iPT can be identified from the literature? (2) What goal typology can be proposed based on goal characteristics? (3) How can professionals negotiate a consistent set of goals for the iPT?

Design: Document content analysis of health service research papers, on the topic of 'goals for care'.

Setting: With the increasing prevalence of multimorbidity, guidance regarding the identification and alignment of goals for care across organisations and disciplines is urgently needed.

Participants: 70 papers that describe 'goals for care', 'health' or 'the good healthcare process' relevant to a general iPT, identified in a step-wise structured search of MEDLINE, Web of Science and Google Scholar.

Results: We developed a goal typology with four categories. Three categories are professionally defined: (1) Functional, (2) Biological/Disease and (3) Adaptive goals. The fourth category is the patient's personally defined goals. Professional and personal goals may conflict, in which case goal prioritisation by creation of a goal hierarchy can be useful. We argue that the patient has the moral and legal right to determine the goals at the top of such a goal hierarchy. Professionals can then translate personal goals into realistic professional goals such as standardised health outcomes linked to evidence-based guidelines. Thereby, when goals are aligned with one another, the iPT will be truly patient centred, while care follows professional guidelines.

Conclusions: Personal goals direct professional goals and define the success criteria of the iPT. However, making personal goals count requires brave and wide-sweeping attitudinal, organisational and regulatory transformation of care delivery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Comorbidity
  • Delivery of Health Care*
  • Goals*
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Patient-Centered Care*