Patients want physicians to ascertain their wishes related to resuscitation, yet such discussions of "code status" are often delayed in the hospital setting, which compromises patient autonomy. Few studies have examined family physicians' views on this topic. Our objectives were to explore the experiences of family physicians and family practice residents in establishing code status with their patients who had been admitted to hospital and to identify barriers to these discussions.
Semistructured, in-depth interviews were conducted with 5 family physicians and 5 family practice residents admitting patients to a family practice teaching ward in a university-affiliated urban tertiary care hospital. Interview transcripts were analysed inductively, and grounded theory was used to identify conceptual categories and recurring themes. Key findings were validated by means of member checking with participants, consensus meetings of the research team and consultation with qualitative researchers.
Barriers to code-status discussions included personal discomfort with confronting mortality, fear of damaging the doctor-patient relationship or harming the patient by raising the topic of death, limited time to establish trust, and difficulty in managing complex family dynamics. In spite of these challenges, family physicians and residents viewed discussions of resuscitation as a significant part of their role.
Family physicians and residents need to develop personal awareness about difficulties in confronting mortality, enhance their communication strategies for broaching the topic of code status in the context of a trusting doctor-patient relationship and sharpen their skills in understanding and managing family dynamics related to end-of-life decisions. Awareness of the barriers to code-status discussions can inform research, education and hospital policy. Consultation with patients is needed to develop effective communication strategies.
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