Role of allied health care professionals in goals-of-care discussions with hospitalized patients and perceived barriers: a cross-sectional survey
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BACKGROUND: Allied health care professionals can contribute meaningfully to goals-of-care discussions with seriously ill hospitalized patients and their families. We sought to explore the perspective of hospital-based allied health care professionals on their role in goals-of-care discussions and to identify barriers to their participation. METHODS: We surveyed allied health care professionals (social workers, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, registered dietitians, speech-language pathologists and pharmacists) on internal medicine, hematology-oncology, medical oncology and radiation oncology wards at 2 tertiary care hospitals in Hamilton, Ontario, from April 2013 to May 2014. We modified a validated questionnaire originally designed to assess barriers to discussing goals of care from the perspective of nurses, residents and staff physicians on hospital medical wards. Respondents rated the questionnaire items on a 7-point Likert scale. RESULTS: Of the 47 allied health care professionals invited, 32 (68%) participated: 9 physiotherapists, 7 social workers, 6 occupational therapists, 4 registered dietitians, 3 pharmacists and 2 speech-language pathologists; in 1 case, the profession was unknown. The greatest perceived barriers to engaging in goals-of-care discussions were lack of patient decision-making capacity (mean rating 5.9 [standard error (SE) 0.3]), lack of awareness of patients' previous discussions with other team members (mean rating 5.7 [SE 0.3]) and family members' difficulty accepting a poor prognosis (mean rating 5.6 [SE 0.2]). Although the respondents felt it was most acceptable for staff physicians, residents and advanced practice nurses to exchange information and reach a final decision during goals-of-care discussions, they felt it was acceptable for a broader range of allied health care professionals to initiate discussions (mean rating 4.7-5.8) and to act as decision coaches (clarifying values, weighing options) with patients and families (mean rating 5.3-6.1). INTERPRETATION: Allied health care professionals are willing to initiate goals-of-care discussions and to act as a decision coach with seriously ill hospitalized patients and their families. By improving interprofessional collaboration, we can engage the entire health care team in this process.