A study published in the December 2017 issue of Seminars in Oncology Nursing highlights the importance of nurses’ roles in family meetings concerning palliative and end-of-life care.
Family meetings are relatively under-addressed in the academic literature, and nurses’ roles in the process are especially unclear. Yet these meetings are beneficial opportunities to interact with the entire care team. Physicians often schedule these conversations to set goals and make decisions on how to proceed with treatment, as well as deliver sensitive information.
Meetings with the care team also offer a significant source of support and inclusion in the treatment process for patients and their caregivers. The study analyzed current best practices from the literature and suggests that oncology nurses are perfectly situated to function as a bridge between physicians and patients:
Because the nurse generally spends more time than other disciplines with the patient and family, the nurse is uniquely positioned to clarify medical details about the patient’s condition, assess caregivers’ preferences for involvement in decision-making, as well as their readiness to talk about end-of-life issues.
Yet the research team concluded that end-of-life communication is significantly under-emphasized in nursing education. The authors suggest specific tactics for engaging patients and caregivers to drive positive outcomes. One crucial role is to facilitate a discussion ensuring that the patient and their caregivers are allowed time to speak and ask any questions they may have:
As part of the interdisciplinary team, the oncology nurse should use active, empathic listening, and ensure that caregivers are allowed to speak. It is important to recognize the emotional effect of the illness on both patients and caregivers, and respond to difficult emotions with empathy.
There’s plenty of great information and suggestions on how to handle this difficult but important aspect of cancer care in the study. You can read the full article here.