Advance care plan barriers in older patients with end-stage renal disease: a qualitative nephrologist interview study

BMJ Support Palliat Care. 2019 Jun 25;bmjspcare-2018-001759. doi: 10.1136/bmjspcare-2018-001759. Online ahead of print.


Objectives: Older patients with end-stage renal disease are willing participants in advance care planning but just over 10% are engaged in this process. Nephrologists fear such conversations may upset patients and so tend to avoid these discussions. This approach denies patients the opportunity to discuss their end-of-life care preferences. Many patients endure medically intensive end-of-life scenarios as a result. This study aims to explore the rationale underpinning nephrologists' clinical decision-making in the management of older patients with end-stage renal disease and to make recommendations that inform policymakers and enhance advance care planning for this patient group.

Methods: A qualitative interview study of 20 nephrologists was undertaken. Nephrologists were asked about their management of end-stage renal disease in older patients, conservative management, dialysis withdrawal and end-of-life care. Eligible participants were nephrologists working in Ireland. Five nephrologists participated in a recorded focus group and 15 nephrologists participated in individual digitally recorded telephone interviews. Semistructured interviews were conducted; thematic analysis was used to distil the results.

Results: Three key themes emerged: barriers to advance care planning; barriers to shared decision-making; and avoidance of end-of-life care discussion.

Conclusions: Advance care planning is not an integral part of the routine care of older patients with end-stage renal disease. Absence of formal training of nephrologists in how to communicate with patients contributes to poor advance care planning. Nephrologists lack clinical experience of conservatively managing end-stage renal disease and end-of-life care in older patients. Key policy recommendations include formal communication skills training for nephrologists and development of the conservative management service.

Keywords: advance care planning; conservative management; dialysis withdrawal; end-of-life care; end-stage renaldisease (ESRD); qualitative.