Behavioural economic interventions to embed palliative care in community oncology (BE-EPIC): study protocol for the BE-EPIC randomised controlled trial

BMJ Open. 2023 Mar 24;13(3):e069468. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2022-069468.


Introduction: Palliative care (PC) is a medical specialty focusing on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of serious illnesses such as cancer. Early outpatient specialty PC concurrent with cancer-directed treatment improves quality of life and symptom burden, decreases aggressive end-of-life care and is an evidence-based practice endorsed by national guidelines. However, nearly half of patients with advanced cancer do not receive specialty PC prior to dying. The objective of this study is to test the impact of an oncologist-directed default PC referral orders on rates of PC utilisation and patient quality of life.

Methods and analysis: This single-centre two-arm pragmatic randomised trial randomises four clinician-led pods, caring for approximately 250 patients who meet guideline-based criteria for PC referral, in a 1:1 fashion into a control or intervention arm. Intervention oncologists receive a nudge consisting of an electronic health record message indicating a patient has a default pended order for PC. Intervention oncologists are given an opportunity to opt out of referral to PC. Oncologists in pods randomised to the control arm will receive no intervention beyond usual practice. The primary outcome is completed PC visits within 12 weeks. Secondary outcomes are change in quality of life and absolute quality of life scores between the two arms.

Ethics and dissemination: This study has been approved by the Institutional Review Board at the University of Pennsylvania. Study results will be disseminated in peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences using methods that describe the results in ways that key stakeholders can best understand and implement.

Trial registration number: NCT05365997.

Keywords: health services administration & management; oncology; palliative care.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial Protocol
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Economics, Behavioral
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Palliative Care / methods
  • Quality of Life
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Terminal Care* / methods

Associated data