Meeting the family: measuring effectiveness of family meetings in a specialist inpatient palliative care unit

Breffni Hannon, Valerie O'Reilly, Kathleen Bennett, Karen Breen, Peter G Lawlor
Palliative & Supportive Care 2012, 10 (1): 43-9

OBJECTIVE: The World Health Organization (WHO) definition of palliative care as "an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness …" recognizes the importance of family members in this setting. In practice, family meetings account for a significant amount of the weekly workload in a specialist inpatient palliative care unit. Despite this, there is little empirical evidence to support the benefits of family meetings from the perspective of family members.

METHOD: A prospective study over 6 months, invited a designated family member to complete a self-report instrument (SRI) and the Family Inventory of Needs (FIN) questionnaire prior to, immediately following, and 48 hours after a planned family meeting attended by several members of the multidisciplinary team.

RESULTS: Thirty-one designated family members completed the study. The SRIs completed prior to a family meeting identified particular areas of concern and worry for family members, and also helped to generate an agenda based on the family's particular needs. The pre-meeting FIN identified areas of patient care of greatest importance to each family member, and asked them to rate whether particular care needs were presently met or unmet, in their opinion, by the healthcare team caring for the patient. Following the family meeting, repeat SRIs showed an overall reduction in concerns and increased confidence in dealing with those issues raised. Post-family meeting FIN scores confirmed a greater number of met care needs compared with pre-meeting scores, all of which were sustained over time.

SIGNIFICANCE OF RESULTS: This study confirms the value of planned multidisciplinary family meetings for patients in specialist inpatient palliative care units. It identifies the often unmet needs of family members and the sustained benefits associated with formal family meetings.

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