End-of-life discussions in practice: survey among Canadian radiation oncologists

Justin Oh, Kristopher Dennis, Shilo Lefresne, Jonathan Livergant, Michael McKenzie


Background: Early end-of-life (EOL) discussions improve patient satisfaction, quality of care, and the cost-effectiveness of care. However, some US studies show that radiation oncologists (ROs) are unlikely to discuss EOL issues until the patients develop significant symptoms or the families initiate the discussion. There have been no prior studies describing the patterns of EOL discussions among Canadian ROs. The objectives of this study were: (I) to describe the patterns of EOL discussions among Canadian ROs; (II) to identify the barriers to EOL conversation among Canadian ROs; (III) to assess the attitudes of Canadian ROs toward Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD).
Methods: The 22-question online survey was distributed to the members of Canadian Association of Radiation Oncologists (CARO). Demographics, EOL discussion patterns, perception of EOL discussions, barriers, and the impact of MAiD were evaluated.
Results: Sixty ROs responded out of 326. Prognosis (57%) and goals of care (58%) were routinely discussed, while advanced directive (40%) and planned site of death (12%) were not. More than 90% felt that early EOL discussions with palliative patients were important. The amount of palliative discussion training was correlated with confidence in EOL discussion (P<0.01), perceived importance of RO role in EOL (P=0.006), and the frequency of planned site of death discussion (P=0.041). The most frequently identified barriers were lack of time, uncertainty about prognosis, and concern for patient disappointment. Many ROs provided MAiD information upon request or case-by-case, but only 3% provided the information routinely.
Conclusions: Canadian ROs recognize the importance of EOL discussions, but they do not routinely incorporate advanced directive or site of death in their discussions. ROs with more palliative discussion training were more confident in EOL discussion and likely to engage in them earlier. Short structured training may improve the confidence and quality of EOL discussion. Time constraint is the number one barrier that may be alleviated by delegation of tasks and patient education tools. Discussion about MAiD is supported but not routine among Canadian ROs.