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Home care nurses’ decisions about the need for and amount of service at the end of life


K.I. Stajduhar: e-mail:


stajduhar k.i., funk l., roberts d., mcleod b., cloutier-fisher d., wilkinson c. & purkis m.e. (2011) Home care nurses’ decisions about the need for and amount of service at the end of life. Journal of Advanced Nursing67(2), 276–286.


Aims.  We explore home care nurse decision-making about the need for and amount of service by clients and families at the end of life. We identify factors nurses refer to when describing these decisions, situated within contextual features of nursing practice.

Background.  Home care nurses are often responsible for decisions which have an impact on the access of clients and families to services at the end of life. Understanding how these decisions, are made, factors that are considered, and contextual influences is critical for improving access and enhancing care.

Methods.  Qualitative data were collected between 2006 and 2008 from two samples of home care nurses: the first group (n = 29) recorded narrative descriptions of decisions made during visits to families. The second group (n = 27) completed in-person interviews focusing on access to care and their interactions with clients and families. Data were analysed with thematic coding and constant comparison.

Findings.  Participants described assessing client and family needs and capacity. These assessments, at times integrated with considerations about relationships with clients and families, inform predictive judgements about future visits; these judgments are integrated with workload and home health resource considerations. In describing decisions, participants referred to concepts such as expertise, practice ideals and approaches to care.

Conclusion.  Findings highlight the role of considerations of family caregiver capacity, the influence of relationships and the importance of the context of practice, as part of a complete understanding of the complexity of access to care at the end of life.