Healthcare professionals’ perceptions of existential distress in patients with advanced cancer

Authors


E. Mok: e-mail: hsemok@inet.polyu.edu.hk

Abstract

mok e., lau k-p., lam w-m., chan l-n., ng j.s.c. & chan k-s. (2010) Healthcare professionals’ perceptions of existential distress in patients with advanced cancer. Journal of Advanced Nursing66(7), 1510–1522.

Abstract

Title. Healthcare professionals' perceptions of existential distress in patients with advanced cancer.

Aim.  This paper is a report of an exploration of the phenomenon of existential distress in patients with advanced cancer from the perspectives of healthcare professionals.

Background.  Existential distress is an important concern in patients with advanced cancer; it affects their well-being and needs to be addressed in the provision of holistic care.

Method.  Focus groups were conducted from November 2008 to February 2009 with physicians, nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and chaplains working in a palliative care unit that served patients with advanced cancer in Hong Kong. Data collection and analysis were guided by the grounded theory approach. All categories were saturated when five focus groups had been held with a total number of 23 participants.

Findings.  We found three causal conditions of existential distress: anticipation of a negative future, failure to engage in meaningful activities and relationships, and having regrets. Three basic (caring, relating and knowing) and six specific (positive feedback, religious support, new experiences, task setting, exploring alternatives and relationship reconciliation) intervening strategies were identified. Whether the intervening strategies would be effective would depend on patients’ openness and readiness; healthcare professionals’ self-awareness, hopefulness, and interest in knowing the patients; and a trusting relationship between patients and healthcare professionals. A sense of peace in patients was considered a consequence of successful interventions.

Conclusion.  This paper acknowledges the lack of an accepted conceptual framework of existential distress in patients with advanced cancer. It is based on healthcare professionals’ views, and further studies from the perspectives of patients and their families are needed.

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