Chinese physicians’ perceptions of palliative care integration for advanced cancer patients: a qualitative analysis at a tertiary hospital in Changsha, China

BMC Medical Ethics 23 (1):1-9 (2022)
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Abstract

BackgroundLittle previous research has been conducted outside of major cities in China to examine how physicians currently perceive palliative care, and to identify specific goals for training as palliative care access expands. This study explored physicians’ perceptions of palliative care integration for advanced cancer patients in Changsha, China.MethodsWe conducted semi-structured qualitative interviews with physicians (n = 24) specializing in hematology or oncology at a tertiary hospital.ResultsMost physicians viewed palliative care as equivalent to end-of-life care, while a minority considered it possible to integrate palliative care with active treatment. Almost all physicians maintained separate conversations about palliative care with family members and patients, communicating more directly with family members than with patients about prognosis and goals of care. Physicians described experiencing ethical tension between the desire of family members to protect the patient from knowing they have advanced cancer, and the patient’s “right to decide” about palliative treatment. Physicians varied overall regarding perceptions of the role they should have in discussions about goals of care.ConclusionsAs palliative care access expands in China, medical training should encourage earlier integration of palliative care for advanced cancer, address ethical issues faced by physicians communicating about palliative care, and establish guidance on the role of the physician in discussions about goals of care.

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