How do physicians and nurses in family practice describe their care for patients with progressive life-limiting illness? A qualitative study of a ‘palliative approach’ Academic Article uri icon

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  • Abstract Aim: To explore how a palliative approach to care is operationalized in primary care, through the description of clinical practices used by primary care clinicians to identify and care for patients with progressive life-limiting illness (PLLI). Background: Increasing numbers of people are living with PLLI but are often not recognized as needing a palliative approach to care. To meet growing needs, generalists such as family physicians will need to adopt a palliative approach to care in their own setting. Practical descriptions of a palliative approach in non-specialist settings have been lacking. Methods: We conducted a qualitative descriptive study design using in-depth semi-structured interviews with 11 key informant participants (6 physicians, 3 nurse practitioners, 1 registered nurse, and 1 registered practical nurse) known to be providing comprehensive care to patients with PLLI in family practices in Ontario, Canada. We asked about their approach to identifying patients with PLLI and the strategies used in their care. We employed content analysis to develop themes. Findings: Participants identified patients by functional decline, change in needs, increased acuity, and the specifics of a condition/diagnosis. Care strategies included concretizing commitment to care, eliciting goals of care, shifting care to the home, broadening team members including leveraging the support of family and community resources, and shifting to a ‘proactive’ approach involving increased follow-up, flexibility, and intensity. Conclusion: Primary care providers articulated strategies for identifying and providing care to patients with PLLI that illuminate an upstream approach tailored to their setting.


  • Rewegan, Alex
  • Danho, Sharef
  • White, Joy
  • Winemaker, Samantha
  • Hansen, Nicolle
  • MacLennan, Amanda
  • Howard, Michelle

publication date

  • 2019