Authors: Giezendanner S, Jung C, Banderet HR, Otte IC, Gudat H, Haller DM, Elger BS, Zemp E, Bally K
PLoS One. 2017;12(2):e0170168
BACKGROUND: Identifying essential competencies in end-of-life care, as well as general practitioners' (GPs) confidence in these competencies, is essential to guide training and quality improvement efforts in this domain.
AIM: To determine which competencies in end-of-life care are considered important by GPs, to assess GPs' confidence in these competencies in a European context and their reasons to refer terminally ill patients to a specialist.
DESIGN AND SETTING: Cross-sectional postal survey involving a stratified random sample of 2000 GPs in Switzerland in 2014.
METHOD: Survey development was informed by a previous qualitative exploration of relevant end-of-life GP competencies. Main outcome measures were GPs' assessment of the importance of and confidence in 18 attributes of end-of-life care competencies, and reasons for transferring care of terminally-ill patients to a specialist. GP characteristics associated with main outcome measures were tested using multivariate regression models.
RESULTS: The response rate was 31%. Ninety-nine percent of GPs considered the recognition and treatment of pain as important, 86% felt confident about it. Few GPs felt confident in cultural (16%), spiritual (38%) and legal end-of-life competencies such as responding to patients seeking assisted suicide (35%) although more than half of the respondents regarded these competencies as important. Most frequent reasons to refer terminally ill patients to a specialist were lack of time (30%), better training of specialists (23%) and end-of-life care being incompatible with other duties (19%). In multiple regression analyses, confidence in end-of-life care was positively associated with GPs' age, practice size, home visits and palliative training.
CONCLUSIONS: GPs considered non-somatic competencies (such as spiritual, cultural, ethical and legal aspects) nearly as important as pain and symptom control. Yet, few GPs felt confident in these non-somatic competencies. These findings should inform training and quality improvement efforts in this domain, in particular for younger, less experienced GPs.