GPs' perceptions of advance care planning with frail and older people: a qualitative study.

09 Feb 2018

Background . The frail and elderly are estimated to account for 40% of deaths. Despite conversations about end of life care being an important component of the National End of Life Care Strategy, there is a marked disparity between the majority who would like to discuss advance care plans, and the minority who currently have this opportunity. Aim. To investigate the attitudes of GPs to advance care planning discussions (ACP) with frail and elderly individuals. Design and Setting. Focus group study with GPs in Cambridgeshire between September 2015 and January 2016. Method. Five focus groups with 21 GPs purposively sampled to maximise diversity. Framework analysis was used to analyse transcripts and develop themes. Results. While some were concerned it might cause distress, the majority of GPs felt raising ACP was important, especially as preparation for future emergencies. Knowing the individuals, introducing the idea as part of ongoing discussions and public awareness campaigns were all facilitators identified. Several considered that service limitations made it difficult to fulfil patients’ wishes and risked raising unrealistic patient expectations. Other barriers identified included uncertainty over prognosis and difficulties ensuring individuals’ wishes were respected. Conclusion. Most GPs viewed ACP as important. Their enthusiasm however was tempered by experience. This study highlights the difficulties for GPs of encouraging dialogue and respecting individuals’ wishes within the constraints of the existing health and social care system. National publicity campaigns and encouraging patients to prioritise healthcare outcomes could help GPs raise care preferences without causing a detrimental impact on patients or raising unrealistic expectations. Once care preferences are raised, patients’ preferences need to be documented, accessible and reviewed by all relevant health and social care providers to ensure their wishes are respected, and plans amended as their circumstances change.