Project Background: Often, patients who are near the end of life are not recognized as actively dying. As a result, their suffering may not be appreciated or managed properly, and may even be exacerbated by usual medical care when aggressive, futile, or iatrogenically harmful treatments are continued. During this time, supportive and comfort care treatment plans can be implemented to reduce suffering and improve the quality of care provided to these patients. The investigative team has developed and evaluated an education-based intervention to teach providers how to identify patients who are actively dying and to implement care plans appropriate for the last days or hours of life. To facilitate use of these interventions, an electronic Comfort Care Order Set (CCOS) was designed and integrated into the Computerized Patient Record System (CPRS) to support and guide the selection of comfort care treatments. The effectiveness of the Comfort Care Education Intervention has been demonstrated in 7 VAMCs and it is ready for implementation on a broader scale.
Project Objectives: The proposed trial will extend this line of research by examining two methods of delivering this Comfort Care Education Intervention utilizing the established infrastructure of Palliative Care Consult Teams (PCCT): a Basic Implementation Approach using a teleconference to review educational materials and activate PCCTs to educate other providers, and an Enhanced Implementation Approach utilizing in-person, train-the-"champion" workshops to prepare PCCT members to be leaders and trainers at their home sites. The aims of this study are 1) to compare the effectiveness of the two approaches for changing provider behavior, as reflected in documented processes of end-of-life care, 2) to formatively evaluate PCCT members' experiences with and perceptions of the two approaches, 3) to quantitatively evaluate PCCT members' perceptions of the training received and its impact on attitudes, skills, and perceived efficacy to care for patients and teach other providers, and 4) to assess the downstream effect of the intervention on providers at all sites who receive training from PCCT members, including their perceptions of the value of the education and its impact on knowledge, attitudes, skills, and practice.
Project Methods: Forty-seven VA Medical Centers have been recruited to participate in the trial and randomized to receive the Comfort Care Education Intervention using the Basic or the Enhanced Implementation Approach. Data on processes of end-of-life care are being abstracted from the CPRS medical records of veterans who die before and after the interventions, including presence of an active opioid order at time of death (primary endpoint), other medication orders and administration, do-not-resuscitate orders, palliative care consult orders, location of death, presence of nasogastric tubes/intravenous lines, restraints, and pastoral care. Semi-structured telephone interviews are being conducted with all participating PCCT members to explore their perceptions of training, the process of teaching other providers at each site, barriers and facilitators they encountered, how prepared they felt to overcome these barriers, and specific needs and preferences regarding the implementation approach. PCCT members at all sites will complete a post-training questionnaire to evaluate the usefulness of the training and its impact in terms of changing their attitudes about end-of-life care; recognition of dying patients; self-efficacy in ordering appropriate care plans; and clinical practice, including likelihood of using CCOS.
Findings will provide a robust evaluation of the implementation process and will be used to refine the Comfort Care Education Intervention and implementation strategies in preparation for nationwide dissemination of best practices for end-of-life care within the VA Healthcare System.
Anticipated Impacts on Veterans' Healthcare: The overarching goal of this research program is to improve the quality of end-of-life care provided to veterans dying in VA Medical Centers, by transferring the best practices of home hospice and palliative care for the last days and hours of life into the inpatient setting.
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Grant Number: I01HX000965-01A2
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