Nurses' communication of prognosis and implications for hospice referral: a study of nurses caring for terminally ill hospitalized patients

Dena Schulman-Green, Ruth McCorkle, Emily Cherlin, R Johnson-Hurzeler, Elizabeth H Bradley
American Journal of Critical Care 2005, 14 (1): 64-70

BACKGROUND: Although nurses are ideally situated to facilitate communication about prognosis and hospice referral among patients, patients' family members, and hospital staff, nurses do not always assume this task.

OBJECTIVE: To identify common obstacles to nurses' discussions of prognosis and referral to hospice care with terminally ill patients in the hospital setting.

METHODS: Data from a previous study were analyzed. In that study, a total of 174 experienced staff nurses working full-time in hospital practice areas where terminally ill patients routinely receive care at 6 randomly selected community hospitals in Connecticut participated. Each nurse completed a self-administered, cross-sectional survey. In this study, the open-ended responses of the nurses were examined by using content analysis and descriptive analysis.

RESULTS: The most common obstacles were unwillingness of a patient or the patient's family to accept the prognosis and/or hospice, sudden death or noncommunicative status of the patient, belief of physicians' hesitance, nurses' discomfort, and nurses' desire to maintain hope among patients and patients' families.

CONCLUSIONS: The reasons for noncommunication of prognosis and referral to hospice care by nurses are complex. Because limited discussion between clinicians and patients about prognosis and treatment options can reduce the likelihood of referral to hospice care, improved communication skills may result in more referrals and a smoother transition to hospice.

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