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Out-of-hours medical care for terminally ill patients: A survey of availability and preferences of general practitioners

Marjan Hoexum, Henk E P Bosveld, Jan Schuling, Annette J Berendsen
Palliative Medicine 2012, 26 (8): 986-93
22126846

BACKGROUND: Continuity of care is one of the core values of good medical care for terminally ill patients. The availability of one's own general practitioner (GP) out of hours is regarded as important for personal continuity. Few data are available about the extent of out-of-hours care given by GPs to their terminally ill patients.

AIM: The objective of this study was to determine to which level GPs are available out of hours for their own terminally ill patients and to elicit what factors are relevant to this availability.

DESIGN AND SETTING: The research questions were investigated using a cross-sectional study of Dutch GPs. A questionnaire was sent to a random sample of 691 Dutch GPs.

RESULTS: The response rate was 47% (n = 327). Of the respondents, 86% was willing to provide out-of-hours care for their own terminally ill patients. These figures are higher than reported in previous studies. This study shows that out-of-hours availability correlates most strongly with the GPs' perception of duties of care. Availability is negatively influenced if the GP is in a salaried job, if he or she works in a city based practice, or if home is far from the practice. A correlation between age, sex, and experience of GPs and availability for out-of- hours care for their terminally ill patients was not confirmed.

CONCLUSIONS: The reported out-of-hours availability of GPs for terminally ill patients is still high. GPs' perception of their duty of care might change in the next generations, and the increasing number of salaried GPs, living far from their practice, might threaten out-of-hours availability for terminally ill patients. GPs' perception of their duty of care might change in the next generations, and the increasing number of salaried GPs living far from their practice might threaten out-of-hours availability for terminally ill patients.

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