Using the Surprise Question To Identify Those with Unmet Palliative Care Needs in Emergency and Inpatient Settings: What Do Clinicians Think?

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Emergency Medicine, Maine Medical Center Research Institute, Pen Bay Medical Center

Journal Title

Journal of Palliative Medicine

MeSH Headings

Palliative Care; Emergency Service; Inpatients; Physician Attitudes; Human; Terminally Ill Patients Evaluation; Cross Sectional Studies; Advance Care Planning; Hospitals; Data Analysis Software; Interns and Residents; Male; Female; Adult; Middle Age; Education, Medical; Adult: 19-44 years; Middle Aged: 45-64 years; Male; Female


Background: The surprise question (SQ), ' Would you be surprised if this patient died within the next year?' is effective in identifying end-stage renal disease and cancer patients at high risk of death and therefore potentially unmet palliative care needs. Following implementation of the SQ in our acute care setting, we sought to explore hospital-based providers' perceptions of the tool. Objectives: To evaluate (1) providers' perceptions regarding the feasibility of SQ use in emergency and inpatient settings, (2) clinician perceptions regarding the utility of the SQ, and (3) barriers to SQ use. Design: A cross-sectional survey of medical providers following addition of the SQ to the electronic record for all patients admitted to a tertiary care hospital. Results: A total of 111/203 (55%) providers participated: 48/57 (84%) emergency physicians (EPs) and 63/146 (43%) inpatient providers (IPs). Most reported no difficulty using the SQ. Modest numbers in both groups reported that the SQ influenced care delivery (EPs 37%, IPs 42%) as well as goals of care (EPs 45%, IPs 52%). At least some advance care planning discussions were prompted by the SQ (EPs 45%, IPs 58%). Team discussions were influenced by SQ use for more than half of each group. Most respondents (55%) expressed some concern that their SQ responses could be inaccurate. Conclusions: In this setting, clinicians indicated that use of the SQ is feasible, acceptable, and useful in facilitating advance care planning discussions among teams, patients, and families. Many reported that SQ use influenced goals of care, but concern regarding accuracy was a barrier. Additional research examining SQ accuracy and predictive ability is warranted.

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