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Keywords:

  • end-of-life care;
  • palliative care;
  • terminal care;
  • quality of health care;
  • specialist palliative care;
  • cancer

BACKGROUND

Prior research has shown that hospitals are often ill-prepared to provide care for dying patients. This study assessed whether the circumstances for dying on cancer center wards allow for a dignified death.

METHODS

In this cross-sectional study, the authors surveyed physicians and nurses in 16 hospitals belonging to 10 cancer centers in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany. A revised questionnaire from a previous study was used, addressing the following topics regarding end-of-life care: structural conditions (ie, rooms, staff), education/training, working environment, family/caregivers, medical treatment, communication with patients, and dignified death.

RESULTS

In total, 1131 surveys (response rate = 50%) were returned. Half of the participants indicated that they rarely have enough time to care for dying patients, and 55% found the rooms available for dying patients unsatisfactory. Only 19% of respondents felt that they had been well-prepared to care for the dying (physicians = 6%). Palliative care staff reported much better conditions for the dying than staff from other wards (95% of palliative care staff indicated that patients die in dignity on their ward). Generally, physicians perceived the circumstances much more positively than nurses, especially regarding communication and life-prolonging measures. Overall, 57% of respondents believed that patients could die with dignity on their ward.

CONCLUSIONS

Only about half of the respondents perceived that a dignified death is possible on their ward. We recommend that cancer centers invest more in staffing, adequate rooms for dying patients, training in end-of-life care, advance-care planning standards, and the early integration of specialist palliative care services. Cancer 2014;120:3254–3260. © 2014 American Cancer Society.