What Matters to Patients and Caregivers

What’s most important to patients with terminal cancer and their caregivers?

New research found that patients and caregivers both tend to prioritize symptom control over life extension but often preferring a balance. Patients and caregivers, however, are less aligned on decisions about cost containment, with patients more likely to prioritize cost containment.

“Our research has revealed that patients and caregivers generally share similar end-of-life goals,” with a “notable exception” when it comes to costs, first author Semra Ozdemir, PhD, with the Lien Centre for Palliative Care, Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore, told Medscape Medical News.

However, when patients and caregivers have a better understanding of the patient’s prognosis, both may be more inclined to avoid costly life-extending treatments and prioritize symptom management.

In other words, the survey suggests that “knowing the prognosis helps patients and their families set realistic expectations for care and adequately prepare for end-of-life decisions,” said Ozdemir.

This study was published online in JAMA Network Open last month.

Patients with advanced cancer often face difficult decisions: Do they opt for treatments that may — or may not — extend life or do they focus more on symptom control?

Family caregivers, who also play an important role in this decision-making process, may have different care goals. Some research suggests that caregivers tend to prioritize treatments that could extend life, whereas patients prioritize symptom management, but it’s less clear how these priorities may change over time and how patients and caregivers may influence each other.

In the current study, the researchers examined goals of care among patients with stage IV solid tumors and caregivers during the last 2 years of life, focusing on life extension vs symptom management and cost containment, as well as how these goals changed over time.

The survey included 210 patient-caregiver pairs, recruited from outpatient clinics at two major cancer centers in Singapore. Patients had a mean age of 63 years, and about half were men. The caregivers had a mean age of 49 years, and almost two third (63%) were women.

Overall, 34% patients and 29% caregivers prioritized symptom management over life extension, whereas 24% patients and 19% caregivers prioritized life extension. Most patients and caregivers preferred balancing the two, with 34%-47% patients and 37%-69% caregivers supporting this approach.

When balancing cost and treatment decisions, however, patients were more likely to prioritize containing costs — 28% vs 17% for caregivers — over extending life — 26% of patients vs 35% of caregivers.

Cost containment tended to be more of a priority for older patients, those with a higher symptom burden, and those with less family caregiver support. For caregivers, cost containment was more of a priority for those who reported that caregiving had a big impact on their finances, those with worse self-esteem related to their caregiving abilities, as well as those caring for older patients.

To better align cost containment priorities between patients and caregivers, it’s essential for families to engage in open and thorough discussions about the allocation of resources, Ozdemir said.

Although “patients, families, and physicians often avoid discussions about prognosis,” such conversations are essential for setting realistic expectations for care and adequately preparing for end-of-life decisions, Ozdemir told Medscape Medical News.

“These conversations should aim to balance competing interests and create care plans that are mutually acceptable to both patients and caregivers,” she said, adding that “this approach will help in minimizing any potential conflicts and ensure that both parties feel respected and understood in their decision-making process.”

Managing Unrealistic Expectations

As patients approached the end of life, neither patients nor caregivers shifted their priorities from life extension to symptom management.

This finding raises concerns because it suggests that many patients hold unrealistic expectations regarding their care and “underscores the need for continuous dialogue and reassessment of care goals throughout the progression of illness,” Ozdemir said.

“This stability in preferences over time suggests that initial care decisions are deeply ingrained or that there may be a lack of ongoing communication about evolving care needs and possibilities as conditions change,” Ozdemir said.

Yet, it can be hard to define what unrealistic expectations mean, said Olivia Seecof, MD, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“I think people are hopeful that a devastating diagnosis won’t lead to the end of their life and that there will be a treatment or something that will change [their prognosis], and they’ll get better,” said Seecof, palliative care expert with the Supportive Oncology Program at NYU Langone Health’s Perlmutter Cancer Center in New York City.

Giving patients and caregivers a realistic understanding of the prognosis is important, but “there’s more to it than just telling the patient their diagnosis,” she said.

“We have to plan for end of life, what it can look like,” said Seecof, adding that “often we don’t do a very good job of talking about that early on in an illness course.”

Overall, though, Seecof stressed that no two patients or situations are the same, and it’s important to understand what’s important in each scenario. End-of-life care requires “an individual approach because every patient is different, even if they have the same diagnosis as someone else,” she said.

This work was supported by funding from the Singapore Millennium Foundation and the Lien Centre for Palliative Care. Ozdemir and Seecof had no relevant disclosures.

Source link

error: Content is protected !!