Palliative care in the emergency department: A qualitative study exploring barriers, facilitators, desired clinician qualities, and future directions

Palliat Support Care. 2021 Jul 8;1-6. doi: 10.1017/S1478951521001012. Online ahead of print.


Objective: To describe the perceived qualities of successful palliative care (PC) providers in the emergency department (ED), barriers and facilitators to ED-PC, and clinicians' perspectives on the future of ED-PC.

Method: This qualitative study using semi-structured interviews was conducted in June-August 2020. Interviews were analyzed via a two-phase Rapid Analysis. The study's primary outcomes (innovations in ED-PC during COVID) are published elsewhere. In this secondary analysis, we examine interviewee responses to broader questions about ED-PC currently and in the future.

Results: PC providers perceived as successful in their work in the ED were described as autonomous, competent, flexible, fast, and fluent in ED language and culture. Barriers to ED-PC integration included the ED environment, lack of access to PC providers at all times, the ED perception of PC, and the lack of a supporting financial model. Facilitators to ED-PC integration included proactive identification of patients who would benefit from PC, ED-focused PC education and tools, PC presence in the ED, and data supporting ED-PC. Increased primary PC education for ED staff, increased automation, and innovative ED-PC models were seen as areas for future growth.

Significance of results: Our findings provide useful information for PC programs considering expanding their ED presence, particularly as this is the first study to our knowledge that examines traits of successful PC providers in the ED environment. Our findings also suggest that, despite growth in the arena of ED-PC, barriers and facilitators remain similar to those identified previously. Future research is needed to evaluate the impact that ED-PC initiatives may have on patient and system outcomes, to identify a financial model to maintain ED-PC integration, and to examine whether perceptions of successful providers align with objective measures of the same.

Keywords: Emergency department; Emergency medicine; Palliative care; Qualitative.