A Structured Intervention to Support Early Palliative Care Conversations for Oncology Patients - A Qualitative Feasibility Study

Clin Oncol (R Coll Radiol). 2022 Jun 1;S0936-6555(22)00233-3. doi: 10.1016/j.clon.2022.05.012. Online ahead of print.


Aims: For patients with advanced cancer, early access to palliative care can have numerous psychosocial and disease management benefits. However, it can be difficult for clinicians to initiate these initial conversations about palliative care. The aim of the present study was to beta test an intervention to facilitate timely conversations about palliative care between patients and clinicians.

Materials and methods: The study reported forms one stage of a complex intervention development study following Medical Research Council guidance for developing complex interventions. Feasibility was explored from patient and clinician perspectives in an oncology outpatient setting.

Results: Sixteen patients and 18 clinicians participated. Three phases of the intervention were assessed through patient and clinician interviews. The analysis produced three themes in each phase: (i) Preparation (patient preparedness; healthcare professionals' perspectives on palliative care; administration, data and communication); (ii) STEP consultation (defining perspectives on palliative care; how palliative care fits with the current treatment plan; permission to explore future care); (iii) Outcomes (changes in perspective and approaches to coping; opening the door to future conversations; referrals and involvement of palliative services).

Conclusions: The STEP intervention generated important early conversations about end-of-life care that may otherwise not have occurred. No patients regretted having the STEP consultation, which resulted in palliative care referrals for some. Others felt better informed about the support services available and better able to have further conversations. Participating clinicians found the structured conversation guide useful, as it acted as a prompt for areas to cover, as well as providing an explicit way to open discussion about difficult topics.

Keywords: Cancer; end-of-life care; palliative care; psychological care; quality of life; supportive care.