Understanding emergency department staff needs and perceptions in the provision of palliative care
Faculty of Health, Engineering and Science
School of Nursing and Midwifery
Objective: The primary aim of the present study was to investigate Australian ED staff perspectives and needs regarding palliative care provision. Secondary aims were to assess staff views about death and dying, and their awareness of common causes of death in Australia, particularly those where a palliative care approach is appropriate. Methods: All medical and nursing staff working in a private ED in Perth, Western Australia, were asked to complete a combined quantitative and qualitative survey. The survey tool uses a combination of Likert-type scales and open-ended questions. Descriptive statistics and intergroup comparisons were made for all quantifiable variables, whereas formal content analysis was used for text responses. Results: Surveys were returned by 22 doctors and 44 nurses, with most reporting only working knowledge of palliative care but clinical proficiency in symptom control. Confidence in palliative care provision was lower among nursing than medical staff but educational needs were similar. Cancer diagnoses were consistently overestimated, and dementia and COPD underestimated, as the most common causes of death. Only six of 63 (9.5%) of respondents identified the correct top five causes of death. Conclusions: Our study suggests that although ED staff expressed confidence regarding symptom management in palliative care, they lacked understanding of the patients in whom a palliative approach could be applied and sought further education in areas, such as end-of-life communication and ethical issues. ED specific training and clinical interventions in palliative care provision would seem to be needed and justified.