Objectives: Accurate assessment that a patient is in the last phase of life is a prerequisite for timely initiation of palliative care in patients with a life-limiting disease, such as advanced cancer or advanced organ failure. Several palliative care quality standards recommend the surprise question (SQ) to identify those patients. Little is known about physicians' views on identifying and disclosing the last phase of life of patients with different illness trajectories. Methods: Data from two focus groups were analysed using thematic analysis with a phenomenological approach. Results: Fifteen medical specialists and general practitioners participated. Participants thought prediction of patients' last phase of life, i.e. expected death within 1 year, is important. They seemed to find that prediction is more difficult in patients with advanced organ failure compared with cancer. The SQ was considered a useful prognostic tool; its use is facilitated by its simplicity but hampered by its subjective character. The medical specialist was considered mainly responsible for prognosticating and gradually disclosing the last phase. Participants' reluctance to such disclosure was related to uncertainty around prognostication, concerns about depriving patients of hope, affecting the physician-patient relationship, or a lack of time or availability of palliative care services. Conclusions: Physicians consider the assessment of patients' last phase of life important and support use of the SQ in patients with different illness trajectories. However, barriers in disclosing expected death are prognostic uncertainty, possible deprivation of hope, physician-patient relationship, and lack of time or palliative care services. Future studies should examine patients' preferences for those discussions.

cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, communication, prognosis
dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmjspcare-2020-002764, hdl.handle.net/1765/135183
BMJ Supportive and Palliative Care
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Owusuaa, C, Van Beelen, I. (Irene), van der Heide, A, & van der Rijt, C.C.D. (2021). Physicians' views on the usefulness and feasibility of identifying and disclosing patients' last phase of life: A focus group study. BMJ Supportive and Palliative Care. doi:10.1136/bmjspcare-2020-002764