Background: Conversations with seriously ill patients about their values and goals have been associated with reduced distress, a better quality of life, and goal-concordant care near the end of life. Yet, little is known about how such conversations are conducted. Objective: To characterize the content of serious illness conversations and identify opportunities for improvement. Design: Qualitative analysis of audio-recorded, serious illness conversations using an evidence-based guide and obtained through a cluster randomized controlled trial in an outpatient oncology setting. Setting/Measurements: Clinicians assigned to the intervention arm received training to use the "Serious Illness Conversation Guide" to have a serious illness conversation about values and goals with advanced cancer patients. Conversations were de-identified, transcribed verbatim, and independently coded by two researchers. Key themes were analyzed. Results: A total of 25 conversations conducted by 16 clinicians were evaluated. The median conversation duration was 14 minutes (range 4-37), with clinicians speaking half of the time. Thematic analyses demonstrated five key themes: (1) supportive dialogue between patients and clinicians; (2) patients' openness to discuss emotionally challenging topics; (3) patients' willingness to articulate preferences regarding life-sustaining treatments; (4) clinicians' difficulty in responding to emotional or ambiguous patient statements; and (5) challenges in discussing prognosis. Conclusions: Data from this exploratory study suggest that seriously ill patients are open to discussing values and goals with their clinician. Yet, clinicians may struggle when disclosing a time-based prognosis and in responding to patients' emotions. Such skills should be a focus for additional training for clinicians caring for seriously ill patients.
- advance care planning
- palliative care
- qualitative research
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine