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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Healthcare users' experiences of communicating with healthcare professionals about children who have life-limiting conditions: a qualitative systematic review protocol

Stuart Ekberg, Natalie Bradford, Anthony Herbert, Susan Danby, Patsy Yates
JBI Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation Reports 2015, 13 (11): 33-42
26657462

REVIEW QUESTION/OBJECTIVE: The objective of this review is to identify and synthesize the best international qualitative evidence on healthcare users' experiences of communication with healthcare professionals about children who have life-limiting conditions. For the purposes of this review, "healthcare users" will be taken to include children who have life-limiting conditions and their families. The question to be addressed is:What are healthcare users' experiences of communicating with healthcare professionals about children who have life-limiting conditions?

BACKGROUND: The prospect of the death of a child from an incurable medical condition is harrowing, yet finding a way to discuss this prospect is crucial to maximize the quality of life for such children and their families. High-quality communication is well recognized as a core skill health care professionals need to maximize the quality of care they provide. This skill is valued by service users, who consistently rate it as one of the highest priorities for the care they receive. Evidence suggests, however, that healthcare professionals can feel ill-equipped or uncomfortable communicating with and about such children. Therefore, it is important to understand what represents high-quality communication and what is involved in accomplishing this within pediatric palliative care.In recent decades there has been an increased focus on providing palliative care for children who have life-limiting conditions. These are conditions for which no cure is available and for which the probable outcome is premature death. Palliative care may also be appropriate for children who have life-threatening conditions; these are conditions where there is not only a high probability of premature death but also a chance of long-term survival into adulthood Although pediatric palliative care is underpinned by the same philosophy as adult palliative care, children who have life-limiting conditions and their families have particular needs that distinguish them from users of adult palliative care. For example, at a physical level children are more likely than adults to have non-malignant conditions that follow trajectories in which children oscillate between feeling relatively well and acutely unwell. The social dynamic of their care is also radically different, particularly given the role of parents or guardians in making surrogate decisions about their child's care. Such factors warrant considering pediatric palliative care as distinct from palliative care more generally.Although the particular circumstances of children who have life-limiting conditions have led to development of pediatric palliative care, the particular provisions of this care differs among countries. One aspect of variation is the age range of patients. Pediatric palliative care is usually provided to neonates, infants, children, adolescents and young adults, but international variations in the definitions of these age ranges, particularly for adolescents and young adults, means pediatric palliative care is provided to different age groups in different countries. This review therefore adopts a pragmatic rather than an age-based definition of a pediatric palliative care, considering all studies relating to service users who are being cared for by pediatric rather than adult healthcare services.In catering for the unique needs of children who have life-limiting conditions and their families, pediatric palliative care aims to achieve pain and symptom management, enhanced dignity and quality of life, and psychosocial and spiritual care. It also seeks to incorporate care for patients' broader families and facilitating access to appropriate services and support. High-quality communication is crucial for achieving these aims. It enables healthcare users and providers to make decisions that underpin the care that is provided and the quality of the life that is possible for patients and their families.Although both users and providers recognize the value of high-quality communication with and about children who have life-limiting conditions, this does not mean that these stakeholders necessarily share the same perspective of what constitutes high-quality communication and the best way of accomplishing this. Focusing on healthcare users' experiences of communication with healthcare professionals about children who have life-limiting conditions, the present review will explore the subjective impact of professionals' communication on the people for whom they provide care.It may be necessary to consider a range of contextual factors to understand healthcare users' experiences of communicating with healthcare professionals about children who have life-limiting conditions. For instance, age, developmental stage, cognitive capacity, emotional and social strengths, and family dynamics can influence a child's level of involvement in discussions about their condition and care. Although there are factors that appear more consistent across the range of pediatric palliative care users, such as parents' preferences for being treated by healthcare professionals as partners in making decisions about the care of their child, there is not always such consistency. Nor is it clear whether such findings can be generalized across different cultural contexts. In appraising existing research, this systematic review will therefore consider the relationship between the context of individual studies and their reported findings.The primary aim of this review is to identify, appraise and synthesize existing qualitative evidence of healthcare users' experiences of communicating with healthcare professionals about children who have life-limiting conditions. The review will consider relevant details of these findings, particularly whether factors like age are relevant for understanding particular experiences of communication. An outcome of this review will be the identification of best available qualitative evidence that can be used to inform professional practice, as well as an identification of priorities for future research in pediatric palliative care.A preliminary search in MEDLINE and CINAHL found primary studies exploring healthcare users' experiences of aspects of communicating with healthcare professionals about children who have life-limiting conditions. A search was also conducted for existing systematic reviews in PubMed, CINAHL, EMBASE, PsycINFO, the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, the JBI Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation Reports, and PROSPERO. No systematic reviews on this topic were found.

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