Latest Australian Research

The following lists palliative care research primarily conducted by Australian research groups. The list is based on application of the CareSearch search filter for palliative care to identify articles held within the PubMed database and corresponding to the strongest evidence. Articles have been selected based on relevance and new articles are added on a weekly basis.

Whilst not an exhaustive list, the aim is to keep the community informed by providing a snapshot of recent research findings and planned studies in the Australian setting.

 

21 October 2019

Are cancer helplines effective in supporting caregivers? A systematic review.

Heckel L, Heynsbergh NL, Livingston PM.

PURPOSE:
The aims of this systematic review were to summarize the profile of caregivers accessing cancer helplines, to evaluate caregiver satisfaction with the helpline service, and to review the evidence base of intervention studies testing the efficacy of community-based cancer helplines in improving caregiver health and well-being.

METHODS:
Four electronic databases (Medline, CINAHL, PsychINFO, and EMBASE) were systematically searched to identify relevant literature, including all articles published in English until May 2018. Reference lists of accepted papers were reviewed for the inclusion of additional potentially relevant articles, gray literature was excluded.

RESULTS:
Forty-five publications met the inclusion criteria for this review. Forty-one papers reported on the proportion of caregivers accessing cancer helplines. Twenty-six studies described demographic and clinical characteristics of caregivers and eight reported on call characteristics. Reasons for contacting the service were stated in 21 studies and caregiver satisfaction with the helpline service was assessed in 12 articles. Fourteen studies investigated specific topics of interest (e.g., prevalence of sleep problems, distress screening, or clinical trial participation). Two randomized controlled trials examined the efficacy of cancer helplines in improving caregiver outcomes, with findings showing interventions to be effective in reducing distress and unmet needs, and in increasing positive adjustment.

CONCLUSIONS:
There is limited scientific evidence regarding the efficacy of cancer helplines to improve caregivers' health and well-being. More intervention studies are needed to examine the benefits of cancer helplines to this study population to ensure structured referral pathways can be established.

1 October 2019

How and how much is spirituality discussed in palliative care consultations for advanced cancer patients with and without a question prompt list?

Best M, McArdle MB, Huang YJ, Clayton J, Butow P.

OBJECTIVE:
Patients want to discuss spirituality more with their doctors but feel disempowered. Question prompt lists (QPLs) assist conversations. This study assessed the impact of a QPL on spirituality discussions in Palliative Care (PC).

METHODS:
This was a sub-study of a trial in which PC patients were randomised to either receive a QPL prior to a consultation or not, to see whether its provision influenced advanced cancer patients'/caregivers' questions and discussion of topics relevant to end-of-life care during consultations with a PC physician. Consultations were recorded and transcribed. Transcriptions were analysed to examine the frequency and content of spirituality discussions. We conducted logistic regression to investigate the impact of the QPL and other predictors.

RESULTS:
174 patients participated. Spirituality was discussed in half the consultations. Patients receiving a QPL discussed spirituality 1.38 times more than controls. This finding did not reach statistical significance. First PC consultation and being asked about their concerns by the doctor were significant predictors of a spiritual discussion.

CONCLUSION:
Patients are more likely to discuss spirituality in their first PC consultation, and when their doctor asks them about their concerns.

PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS:
Doctors caring for patients at the end of life should routinely raise spiritual issues.

30 September 2019

Regular, sustained-release morphine for chronic breathlessness: a multicentre, double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial.

Currow D, Louw S, McCloud P, Fazekas B, Plummer J, McDonald CF, Agar M, Clark K, McCaffery N, Ekström MP; Australian National Palliative Care Clinical Studies Collaborative (PaCCSC).

INTRODUCTION:
Morphine may decrease the intensity of chronic breathlessness but data from a large randomised controlled trial (RCT) are lacking. This first, large, parallel-group trial aimed to test the efficacy and safety of regular, low-dose, sustained-release (SR) morphine compared with placebo for chronic breathlessness.

METHODS:
Multisite (14 inpatient and outpatient cardiorespiratory and palliative care services in Australia), parallel-arm, double-blind RCT. Adults with chronic breathlessness (modified Medical Research Council≥2) were randomised to 20 mg daily oral SR morphine and laxative (intervention) or placebo and placebo laxative (control) for 7 days. Both groups could take ≤6 doses of 2.5 mg, 'as needed', immediate-release morphine (≤15 mg/24 hours) as required by the ethics review board. The primary endpoint was change from baseline in intensity of breathlessness now (0-100 mm visual analogue scale; two times per day diary) between groups. Secondary endpoints included: worst, best and average breathlessness; unpleasantness of breathlessness now, fatigue; quality of life; function; and harms.

RESULTS:
Analysed by intention-to-treat, 284 participants were randomised to morphine (n=145) or placebo (n=139). There was no difference between arms for the primary endpoint (mean difference -0.15 mm (95% CI -4.59 to 4.29; p=0.95)), nor secondary endpoints. The placebo group used more doses of oral morphine solution during the treatment period (mean 8.7 vs 5.8 doses; p=0.001). The morphine group had more constipation and nausea/vomiting. There were no cases of respiratory depression nor obtundation.

CONCLUSION:
No differences were observed between arms for breathlessness, but the intervention arm used less rescue immediate-release morphine.

23 September 2019

Psychoeducational Intervention for Symptom Management of Fatigue, Pain, and Sleep Disturbance Cluster Among Cancer Patients: A Pilot Quasi-Experimental Study.

Nguyen LT, Alexander K, Yates P.

OBJECTIVES:
To assess the feasibility of conducting a trial of a psychoeducational intervention involving the provision of tailored information and coaching to improve management of a cancer-related symptom cluster (fatigue, pain, and sleep disturbance) and reduce symptom cluster impacts on patient health outcomes in the Vietnamese context and to undertake a preliminary evaluation of the intervention.

METHODS:
A parallel-group single-blind pilot quasi-experimental trial was conducted with 102 cancer patients in one Vietnamese hospital. The intervention group received one face-to-face session and two phone sessions delivered by a nurse one week apart, and the comparison group received usual care. Patient outcomes were measured at baseline before the chemotherapy cycle and immediately preceding the next chemotherapy cycle. Separate linear mixed models were used to evaluate the impact of the intervention on total symptom cluster severity, symptom scores, functional status, depressive symptoms, and health-related quality of life.

RESULTS:
The study design was feasible with a recruitment rate of 22.6% and attrition rate of 9.8%. Compared to the control group, the intervention group showed a significant reduction in symptom cluster severity, fatigue severity, fatigue interference, sleep disturbance, depression, and anxiety. Significant differences were not observed for pain severity, pain interference, functional status, and health-related quality of life. The intervention was acceptable to the study population, with a high attendance rate of 78% and adherence rate of 95.7%.

CONCLUSION:
On the basis of the present study findings, future randomized controlled trials are needed to test the effectiveness of a symptom cluster psychoeducational intervention in Vietnam.

23 September 2019

Antimicrobial prescription in patients dying from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Taverner J, Ross L, Bartlett C, Luthe M, Ong J, Irving L, Smallwood N.

BACKGROUND:
Despite rising antimicrobial resistance, treatment guidelines for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbations are frequently ignored. Patients with terminal conditions are often prescribed antimicrobials despite the goal of care to reduce burdensome treatments. The appropriate use of antimicrobials in patients who die from an exacerbation of COPD is unknown.

AIM:
To review antimicrobial prescription during the final admission in patients who died from an acute exacerbation of COPD.

METHODS:
A retrospective medical record audit was performed for 475 patients who died over 12 years (2004-2015). Patients were analysed within three groups: Group 1 - pneumonia on chest radiograph, Group 2 - infective exacerbation of COPD +/- raised inflammatory markers (white cell count, C-reactive protein) and Group 3 - non-infective exacerbation of COPD.

RESULTS:
A total of 221 patients died from COPD. The median age was 80 years, and 136 (60%) were male. Median respiratory function: forced expiratory volume in 1 s 0.8 L (41.0%), forced vital capacity 2.0 L (74.0%) and diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide 8 (40.5%). A total of 109 (49.3%) patients used home oxygen and 156 (70.6%) were ex-smokers. Of the cohort, 90.5% received antimicrobials. In Groups 1, 2 and 3, 68 (94.4%), 108 (92.3%) and 24 (75.0%) patients received antimicrobials respectively. Guideline-concordant therapy was administered to 31.7% of patients (Group 1: 79.2%, Group 2: 4.3%, Group 3: 25.0%), 60.2% of patients received ceftriaxone and 44.8% received azithromycin. The median duration of therapy was 4 days and 27.1% received antimicrobials at the time of death.

CONCLUSION:
Antimicrobials are overprescribed, and non-guideline antimicrobials are overused in patients who die from COPD. Further education of medical staff, regular medication reviews and the use of disease severity scores or clinical pathways may improve antimicrobial stewardship.

23 September 2019

Laycarers can confidently prepare and administer subcutaneous injections for palliative care patients at home: A randomized controlled trial.

Healy S, Israel F, Charles M, Reymond L.

BACKGROUND:
Palliative care patients consistently nominate home as their preferred care environment. This is challenging without support from laycarers, especially if patients require subcutaneously administered symptom relief. Laycarers typically lack confidence with this task and request professional guidance.

AIM:
To explore differences in laycarers' confidence in administering subcutaneous injections depending upon whether a laycarer, registered nurse or pharmacist prepared injections for subsequent administration by laycarers.

DESIGN:
Prospective randomized controlled trial with three intervention arms: laycarer prepares, labels and stores injections; registered nurse prepares injections; and pharmacist prepares injections for later administration by laycarer.

SETTING/PARTICIPANTS:
In all, 93 laycarers, from 24 urban and rural community services, completed the study.

RESULTS:
The primary outcome of interest was laycarer confidence with injection administration; analysis of variance revealed no significant differences between the three intervention arms; mean values ranged from 5.9 to 6.1 out of 7 ( F(2, 90) = 0.50, p = 0.61). Comparison of confidence after laycarer preparation versus other (nurse or pharmacist) was not statistically significant ( t = 0.7, df = 90, p = 0.49). Averaged over intervention arms, confidence levels increase significantly with injecting experience, from 5.3 to 6.1 ( F(1, 75) = 47.6, p < 0.001).

CONCLUSION:
Upskilled laycarers can confidently administer subcutaneous injections for loved ones, regardless of who prepares injections. This finding can improve patient outcomes and potentially decrease unwanted admissions to inpatient facilities.

23 September 2019

A Palliative Approach is Adopted for Many Patients Dying in Hospital with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

Smallwood N, Ross L, Taverner J, John J, Baisch A, Irving L, Philip J.

Severe chronic breathlessness in advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is undertreated and few patients access specialist palliative care in the years before death. This study aimed to determine if symptom palliation or a palliative approach were delivered during the final hospital admission in which death occurred. Retrospective medical record audits were completed at two Australian hospitals, with all patients who died from COPD over 12 years between 1 January 2004 and 31 December 2015 included. Of 343 patients included, 217 (63%) were male with median age 79 years (IQR 71.4-85.0). Median respiratory function: FEV1 0.80L (42% predicted), FVC 2.02L (73% predicted) and DLco 9 (42% predicted). 164 (48%) used domiciliary oxygen. Sixty (18%) patients accessed specialist palliative care and 17 (5%) wrote an advance directive prior to the final admission. In the final admission, 252 (74%) patients had their goal of care changed to aim for comfort (palliation) and 99 (29%) were referred to specialist palliative care. Two hundred and eighty-six (83%) patients received opioids and 226 (66%) received benzodiazepines, within 1 or 2 days respectively after admission to palliate symptoms. Median starting and final opioid doses were 10 mg (IQR = 5-20) and 20 mg (IQR = 7-45) oral morphine equivalent/24 h. Hospital site and year of admission were significantly associated with palliative care provision. Respiratory and general physicians provided a palliative approach to the majority of COPD patients during their terminal admission, however, few patients were referred to specialist palliative care. Similarly, there were missed opportunities to offer symptom palliation and a palliative approach in the years before death.

23 September 2019

Bereavement practices employed by hospitals and medical practitioners toward attending funeral of patients: A systematic review.

Kim K, Churilov L, Huang A, Weinberg L.

OBJECTIVES:
To ascertain bereavement practices offered by hospitals and medical practitioners (MPs), factors that influence the likelihood of MPs' involvement in funeral attendance, the benefits and barriers to attendance to a patient's funeral as perceived by MPs and the rate of attendance to patients' funeral by MPs.

DESIGN:
MEDLINE (Ovid), Embase, PubMed, and Google Scholar were searched with a systematic search structure for randomized controlled trials, comparative observational studies, case series, cross-sectional studies, editorials, and letters. The search was limited to English only. The study was registered with Prospero (Registration Number: CRD42018095368).

RESULTS:
A total of 381 articles were identified with 46 articles meeting the inclusion criteria. Of the 46, 16 were editorials and 12 were letters. Eighteen were cross-sectional studies conducted in the United States, Canada, Australia, Israel, and Ireland. Year of publication ranged from 1990 to 2017. Of these, 12 were quantitative, 3 were qualitative, and 3 were mixed-method studies. Two of the cross-sectional studies involved family members of deceased patients while others involved MPs. Bereavement practices offered by hospitals included memorial services, letters, and services provided by bereavement coordinators. Bereavement practices employed by MPs included answering or making phone calls, attending family meetings, and sending condolence letters. MPs' attendance at a patient's funeral was influenced by MPs' gender, age years of experience the medical specialty. Perceived benefits of MPs' attendance at a patient's funeral included providing support to the family, extending the professional relationship, illustrating respect to the patient and the family, resolving guilt and personal growth. Barriers to the attendance included a lack of time, blurring of professional boundaries, personal discomfort with death, emotional arousal, and discouragement by colleagues. General practice had an attendance rate of 71%. Attendance rates for palliative care, oncology, and psychiatrists ranged from 63% to 81%, 7.1% to 67%, and 15% to 67%, respectively. Intensivists had an attendance rate of 22%.

CONCLUSION:
Several bereavement practices are provided by hospitals and MPs. Funeral attendance is an uncommon bereavement practice. MPs' attitudes toward attending a patient's funeral are understudied in many specialties. Patient factors that influence MPs' participation in bereavement practices are poorly understood.

23 September 2019

Barriers, enablers and initiatives for uptake of advance care planning in general practice: a systematic review and critical interpretive synthesis.

Risk J, Mohammadi L, Rhee J, Walters L, Ward PR.

OBJECTIVES:
How advance care planning (ACP) is conceptualised in Australia including when, where and how ACP is best initiated, is unclear. It has been suggested that healthcare delivered in general practice provides an optimal setting for initiation of ACP discussions but uptake remains low. This systematic review and critical interpretive synthesis sought to answer two questions: (1) What are the barriers and enablers to uptake of ACP in general practice? (2) What initiatives have been used to increase uptake of ACP in general practice?

DESIGN:
A systematic review and critical interpretive synthesis of the peer-reviewed literature was undertaken. A socioecological framework was used to interpret and map the literature across four contextual levels of influence including individual, interpersonal, provider and system levels within a general practice setting.

SETTING:
Primary care general practice settings DATA SOURCES: Searches were undertaken from inception to July 2019 across Ovid Medline, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, Scopus, ProQuest and Cochrane Library of systematic reviews.

RESULTS:
The search yielded 4883 non-duplicate studies which were reduced to 54 studies for synthesis. Year of publication ranged from 1991 to 2019 and represented research from nine countries. Review findings identified a diverse and disaggregated body of ACP literature describing barriers and enablers to ACP in general practice, and interventions testing single or multiple mechanisms to improve ACP generally without explicit consideration for level of influence. There was a lack of cohesive guidance in shaping effective ACP interventions and some early indications of structured approaches emerging.

CONCLUSION:
Findings from this review present an opportunity to strategically apply the ACP research evidence across targeted levels of influence, and with an understanding of mediators and moderators to inform the design of new and enhanced ACP models of care in general practice.

23 September 2019

Fidelity is fundamental: intervention predictors in advance care plans in terminal cancer.

Vaccaro L, Butow PN, Lee D, Johnson SB, Bell M, Clayton J, Detering KM, Tattersall M.

OBJECTIVES:
Assessing whether interventions are implemented as intended (fidelity) is critical to establishing efficacy in clinical research yet rarely applied in advance care planning (ACP) interventions. We aimed to develop and implement a fidelity audit tool for an ACP intervention.

METHODS:
We developed a fidelity audit tool assessing: (A) content; (B) quality (general communication, eliciting EOL preferences and prognostic communication); and (C) family/caregiver involvement. We audited (double-coded) 55 audio-recordings of ACP discussions delivered to advanced cancer patients and caregivers, within a clinical trial.

RESULTS:
Fidelity to content was high: mean=9.38/11 but lower for the quality of general communication (mean=12.47/20), discussion of patient preferences (mean=4.67/7), prognosis (mean=3.9/6) and family/caregiver involvement (mean=2.67/4). Older patient age and caregiver religiosity were associated with higher fidelity. Higher fidelity to content was associated with the trial primary outcome of family caregiver report of patient wishes being discussed and met.

CONCLUSIONS:
Fidelity to content, but not quality, of the ACP intervention is strong. Communication skills training is critical for ACP interventionists. Adherence was higher with older patients and religious carers, factors that may influence acceptance of death and readiness to undertake ACP, making the discussion easier.

123