Clinician Perspectives on Caring for Dying Patients During the Pandemic
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BACKGROUND: The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic has affected the hospital experience for patients, visitors, and staff. OBJECTIVE: To understand clinician perspectives on adaptations to end-of-life care for dying patients and their families during the pandemic. DESIGN: Mixed-methods embedded study. (ClinicalTrials.gov: NCT04602520). SETTING: 3 acute care medical units in a tertiary care hospital from 16 March to 1 July 2020. PARTICIPANTS: 45 dying patients, 45 family members, and 45 clinicians. INTERVENTION: During the pandemic, clinicians continued an existing practice of collating personal information about dying patients and "what matters most," eliciting wishes, and implementing acts of compassion. MEASUREMENTS: Themes from semistructured clinician interviews that were summarized with representative quotations. RESULTS: Many barriers to end-of-life care arose because of infection control practices that mandated visiting restrictions and personal protective equipment, with attendant practical and psychological consequences. During hospitalization, family visits inside or outside the patient's room were possible for 36 patients (80.0%); 13 patients (28.9%) had virtual visits with a relative or friend. At the time of death, 20 patients (44.4%) had a family member at the bedside. Clinicians endeavored to prevent unmarked deaths by adopting advocacy roles to "fill the gap" of absent family and by initiating new and established ways to connect patients and relatives. LIMITATION: Absence of clinician symptom or wellness metrics; a single-center design. CONCLUSION: Clinicians expressed their humanity through several intentional practices to preserve personalized, compassionate end-of-life care for dying hospitalized patients during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. PRIMARY FUNDING SOURCE: Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Canadian Critical Care Trials Group Research Coordinator Fund.