Earlier goals of care (GOC) discussions in patients with advanced cancer are associated with less aggressive end-of-life care including decreased use of medical technologies. Unfortunately, conversations often occur late in the disease trajectory when patients are acutely unwell. Here, we evaluate practitioner perspectives of patient, family, physician, and external barriers to early GOC discussions in the ambulatory oncology setting.
A previously published survey to assess barriers to GOC discussions among clinicians on inpatient medical wards was modified for the ambulatory oncology setting and distributed to oncologists from 12 centers in Ontario, Canada. Physicians were asked to rank the importance of various barriers to having GOC discussions (1 = extremely unimportant to 7 = extremely important).
Questionnaires were completed by 30 (24%) of 127 physicians. Respondents perceived patient- and family-related factors as the most important barriers to GOC discussions. Of these, patient difficulty accepting prognosis or desire for aggressive treatment were perceived as most important. Patients’ inflated expectation of treatment benefit was also considered an important barrier to discontinuing active cancer-directed therapy. While physician barriers were ranked lower than patient-related factors, clinicians’ self-identified difficulty estimating prognosis and uncertainty regarding treatment benefits were also considered important. Patient’s refusal for referral was the most highly rated barrier to early palliative care referral. Most respondents were nonetheless very or extremely willing to initiate (90%) or lead (87%) GOC discussions.
Oncologists ranked patient- and family-related factors as the most important barriers to GOC discussions, while clinicians’ self-identified difficulty estimating prognosis and uncertainty regarding treatment benefits were also considered important. Further work is required to assess patient preferences and perceptions and develop targeted interventions.