What role do Death Doulas play in end-of-life care? A systematic review

Deb Rawlings, Jennifer Tieman, Lauren Miller-Lewis, Kate Swetenham
Health & Social Care in the Community 2019, 27 (3): e82-e94
Current health and social care systems do not always meet the needs of the dying in our communities. As a result, patients and families are choosing to place their trust in those who can advocate for them or fill the gaps in care. Birth Doulas have been working with women during pregnancy and after birth for many years, and we are now seeing a new role, that of a Death Doula emerging in the end-of-life care space. How Death Doulas work within health and social care systems is not understood and we conducted a systematic review to explore the published literature to explore the role and potential implications for models of care delivery. Following the PRISMA recommendations, we searched the literature in January 2018 via bibliographic databases and the grey literature without search date parameters to capture all published literature. We looked for articles that describe the role/work of a death doula or a death midwife in the context of end-of-life care, or death and dying. Our search retrieved 162 unique records of which five papers were included. We analysed the papers in relation to relationship to health service, funding source, number and demand for services, training, licensing and ongoing support, and tasks undertaken. Death Doulas are working with people at the end of life in varied roles that are still little understood, and can be described as similar to that of "an eldest daughter" or to a role that has similarities to specialist palliative care nurses. Death doulas may represent a new direction for personalised care directly controlled by the dying person, an adjunct to existing services, or an unregulated form of care provision without governing oversight.

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