The terms family meeting and case conference are sometimes used interchangeably. However, 'family meeting' may be used to describe an informal opportunity to hear from and learn about a person and their family, provide them with information and to discuss what this means for them. For example, this could include meetings with the person and their family on entry to aged care.
Case conferences (sometimes called family meetings) are a more formal meeting with the person and their family and involving the care team. The focus is on making plans or decisions about current or future care.
Some of the key concepts to apply, where appropriate, include:
A person’s health literacy levels (how people access, understand and use health information) should guide the way and the level of information that is provided to them. Assume low health literacy and use plain language and avoid clinical jargon and acronyms. Give information in small chunks, at the person's pace and ask them to tell you what they have understood.
It can help to use a structured approach to guide case conferences and document any decisions or questions that arise. Ask if your organisation has a set of forms or a preferred process in place. If not, you can use the palliAGED series of forms or develop your own.
Download the palliAGED case conference forms
To start the discussion, it is important that people are introduced to each other and that the person has the opportunity to share what they know about their condition and what they want to know.
'Can you briefly tell me what you understand about your illness and how the illness may affect you in the future?'
It is also important that the person understands the words and terms you use and that they feel that they can ask a question when they are not sure they have understood something.
Patient: If the person or their family do not respond or respond with a confused look
Nurse: 'Nurses and doctors may use words or terms that are not easily understood. Please stop me and ask if you would like me to explain anything.'
discussion active listening, compassion and empathy are important. The
discussion can, with the person’s permission, explore and clarify their
concerns, expectations, and fears about the future.
Nurse: 'What is your biggest concern at the moment?'
Respecting what the person wants to know, information can be shared at the person’s pace, with checks that they have fully understood what has been said.
Nurse: 'I am happy to give you as much information as I can based on what you want to know.'
'To make sure we are on the same wavelength, I’d like to check what you’ve understood about what we have discussed.'
Check the person’s understanding of what has been said and summarise the discussion.
Where appropriate, options for care can be discussed and a decision(s) may be made.
Patient: 'Everyone wants to make decisions but no one is asking me!'
Nurse: 'Given the current situation, our options are ... I wonder whether. . . is the most suitable option because … . What are your thoughts?'
Summarise the discussion and any decisions or plans.
Record in the
medical record what was discussed and/or write to or speak with other key
health professionals involved in the person’s care about the discussion (including
Work with the multidisciplinary team and check
that information is up-to-date and consistent (e.g. case notes, team meetings,
case review, case conference).
Video from New England Journal of Medicine
This information was drawn from the following resources:
Go to End-of-Life Essentials
Use the SPIKES protocol for delivering bad news (106kb pdf)
Access more Family Meeting Resources
Page created 23 September 2022