Authors: Joyce Hendricks, Vicki Cope, Deborah Sundin
Aim: To acquire a fuller understanding of the influences on decision-making in an acute care hospital for seriously ill patients. Background: Fromthe moment of a diagnosis of serious, potentially life-limiting illness, patients and their families are faced withmultiple, complex and significant decisions that will influence the entire illness trajectory, including their end-of-life care (EOLC). Compounding personal factors is the complexity of dying today with acute ward areas in tertiary hospitals use of technological interventions to prolong life, at all costs being the norm. If hospice care is initiated, in these areas, it is often at too late a stage to relieve distressing symptoms and to offer the person the best possible path of care for a dignified death. Design and methods: A retrospective cohort research design was used for this study. Results: Thirty nine (39) medical records that met the inclusion criteria were audited. While medical records are limited in terms of the quality of the information contained in them in terms of social, behavioural and other qualitative information, the audit obtained detailed clinical information on patient characteristics, clinical care, and family and clinician involvement in the care of these patients. Communication between health professionals and patient and or family were limited. Poor documentation in the medical record did not support shared decision-making with decisions to amend the care pathway to palliative not undertaken in most instances despite no improvement in response to care or deterioration in the patient’s condition. Conclusion: Communication between health care professions, patients and their family’s needs to be addressed. The management of patients who are seriously ill in acute ward areas should be altered to reflect the patient’s condition. Nurses, using a person-centred approach, have a role in advocating for the patient and the family in times of stress. Discussions concerning end-oflife of seriously ill patients need to be open, transparent and communicated as these discussions are critical to ensuring the patient’s wishes are realised.
Keywords: decision-making, acute care, end-of-life-care, communication