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Barriers to palliative care for children: perceptions of pediatric health care providers

Betty Davies, Sally A Sehring, J Colin Partridge, Bruce A Cooper, Anne Hughes, Julie C Philp, Aara Amidi-Nouri, Robin F Kramer
Pediatrics 2008, 121 (2): 282-8

OBJECTIVE: The goal was to explore barriers to palliative care experienced by pediatric health care providers caring for seriously ill children.

METHODS: This study explored pediatric provider perceptions of end-of-life care in an academic children's hospital, with the goal of describing perceived barriers to end-of-life care for children and their families. The report focuses on the responses of nurses (n = 117) and physicians (n = 81).

RESULTS: Approximately one half of the respondents reported 4 of 26 barriers listed in the study questionnaire as frequently or almost always occurring, that is, uncertain prognosis (55%), family not ready to acknowledge incurable condition (51%), language barriers (47%), and time constraints (47%). Approximately one third of respondents cited another 8 barriers frequently arising from problems with communication and from insufficient education in pain and palliative care. Fourteen barriers were perceived by >75% of staff members as occasionally or never interfering with pediatric end-of-life care. Comparisons between physicians and nurses and between ICU and non-ICU staff members revealed several significant differences between these groups.

CONCLUSIONS: Perceived barriers to pediatric end-of-life care differed from those impeding adult end-of-life care. The most-commonly perceived factors that interfered with optimal pediatric end-of-life care involved uncertainties in prognosis and discrepancies in treatment goals between staff members and family members, followed by barriers to communication. Improved staff education in communication skills and palliative care for children may help overcome some of these obstacles, but pediatric providers must realize that uncertainty may be unavoidable and inherent in the care of seriously ill children. An uncertain prognosis should be a signal to initiate, rather than to delay, palliative care.


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