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Patient Perceptions of Specialist Palliative Care Intervention in Surgical Oncology Care.

INTRODUCTION: Surgical oncology patients have a high symptom burden and increased risk of morbidity. The aim of palliative care is to evaluate and treat the patient in a holistic manner focusing on the unique attributes of each patient. This goal-concordant approach could help surgical patients cope with the stress and uncertainty that often accompany serious illness and surgery, improving overall outcomes. This qualitative analysis sought to explore whether unmet specialist palliative care or end-of-life needs exist in this population.

METHODS: Qualitative interviews were completed with a subset of participants in a randomized, controlled trial of a specialist palliative care intervention for patients undergoing abdominal oncologic surgery. The interview guide sought to elicit respondents' perceptions of palliative care and end-of-life needs perioperatively and postoperatively. Recurring themes were identified by two independent coders.

RESULTS: Analysis of 47 interview transcripts revealed few serious concerns about end-of-life issues, however appreciation for the supportive presence offered by palliative care was present. Among participants who received specialist palliative care, many found the intervention helpful, but few were able to articulate issues that the intervention improved.

CONCLUSION: These findings suggest low levels of unmet palliative care needs among this population, which is consistent with the results of the parent trial. Targeting patients with a higher symptom burden perioperatively may allow for improved symptom management and better adherence to the treatment plan postoperatively, as well as be a more focused use of specialist palliative care clinicians' efforts.

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