Managing risk during care transitions when approaching end of life: A qualitative study of patients' and health care professionals' decision making.
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BACKGROUND: Increasing importance is being placed on the coordination of services at the end of life. AIM: To describe decision-making processes that influence transitions in care when approaching the end of life. DESIGN: Qualitative study using field observations and longitudinal semi-structured interviews. SETTING/PARTICIPANTS: Field observations were undertaken in three sites: a residential care home, a medical assessment unit and a general medical unit in New Zealand. The Supportive and Palliative Care Indicators Tool was used to identify participants with advanced and progressive illness. Patients and family members were interviewed on recruitment and 3-4 months later. Four weeks of fieldwork were conducted in each site. A total of 40 interviews were conducted: 29 initial interviews and 11 follow-up interviews. Thematic analysis was undertaken. FINDINGS: Managing risk was an important factor that influenced transitions in care. Patients and health care staff held different perspectives on how such risks were managed. At home, patients tolerated increasing risk and used specific support measures to manage often escalating health and social problems. In contrast, decisions about discharge in hospital were driven by hospital staff who were risk-adverse. Availability of community and carer services supported risk management while a perceived need for early discharge decision making in hospital and making 'safe' discharge options informed hospital discharge decisions. CONCLUSION: While managing risk is an important factor during care transitions, patients should be able to make choices on how to live with risk at the end of life. This requires reconsideration of transitional care and current discharge planning processes at the end of life.
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