Survey Shows Medical Professionals Are Main Source of Palliative Care Information

By Petrina Smith
Tuesday, 27 May, 2014

Doctor with patientMedical professionals remain the source for Australians and their loved ones to access information about palliative care, according to a new Palliative Care Australia survey.
Released today to mark National Palliative Care Week, the survey of Australians who have recently lost loved ones found that 46% of respondents received information about palliative care from a GP, with a further 30% turning to a medical specialist and 26% to an aged care assessment team.
In comparison, only 8% looked to word of mouth sources, with a further 3% seeking information from the Internet.
“Australians preparing for a quality of life for themselves or their loved ones are turning to their trusted health professionals for guidance and support on the end of life services available, including palliative care,” said Dr Yvonne Luxford, Chief Executive Officer of Palliative Care Australia.
“Death is a normal part of the life cycle and an important part of our health system is providing services to Australians at the end of life. “Too often though, medical professionals receive minimal access to education and training to assist them in supporting their patients through this important and often emotional moment.”
“All health professionals – whether GPs, nurses, specialists, or allied health professionals – should have access to professional development training to ensure they are prepared to guide and support Australians in planning for the end of their life, consistent with national palliative care standards.”
The wide range of Australian medical professionals who give their time to palliative care to ensure quality care at the end of life for all are the focus of the 2014 National Palliative Care Week activities, which run from 25 – 31 May 2014.
The survey found that an overwhelming number of respondents placed importance on having financial and preparatory plans in place, should anything unfortunate happen to them. Yet many remain unprepared – having not made plans, updated their plans as life circumstances change, or communicated their plans to loved ones.
Worryingly, only 5% of respondents have made an advance care plan, a plan to set out how you would like to be cared for at the end of life, while only one third of respondents were aware of what an advance care plan is. This compared to 52% of respondents who have a will, 29% who have determined their organ and tissue donation status, and 19% who have identified a power of attorney. Respondents confirmed that only 59% of these plans were up to date.
“Let’s face it, you only die once – and you should be able to have quality end of life care. But your loved ones will need support and guidance to make this happen, and right now plans are falling far short of what’s needed,” said Dr Luxford.
“Facing the death of a loved one is incredibly difficult. We know that for most, the priority is doing what their loved ones would want. But without some sort of plan or even discussion, trying to figure this out makes a tough time even more difficult.
“While the survey shows that the number of respondents with advance care plans increases as people grow older, only one in ten respondents aged 65 years and over have a plan in place. “The kindest thing you can do is make some plans so your own wishes are met, and so those caring for you know what you want when your time comes.”
Over half of respondents (57%) had been involved in decisions about the care of a loved one at the end of their life with one in two indicating that their loved one was able to be cared for in the place of their choice.
Clearly, communication and information remains a barrier to Australians receiving end of life care that respects their values and choices. Over half of respondents felt that they did not have enough information to carry out the wishes of a loved one who had recently died.
“Australians are failing to talk about the health care they want at the end of life,” said Dr Luxford. “Less than half have spoken with their partner; only one in four have spoken with their children; and one in 10 have spoken with their GP.
“Advance care planning is the biggest and most important thing we can do as a society to get it right in terms of providing quality care at the end of life that accords with the individual’s needs and preferences. “As a trusted source of advice to Australians, the medical community can help lead a community wide discussion on how Australians can prepare for their end of life.
“It’s a debate we as Australians need to have. To ensure palliative care is everyone’s business."

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