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Br J Gen Pract. 2006 Jan;56(522):14-9.

Communication on end-of-life decisions with patients wishing to die at home: the making of a guideline for GPs in Flanders, Belgium.

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  • 1End-of-Life Care Research group, Dept. of Medical Sociology and Health Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Laarbeeklaan 103, 1090 Brussels, Belgium.



Communication with patients on end-of-life decisions is a delicate topic for which there is little guidance.


To describe the development of a guideline for GPs on end-of-life communication with patients who wish to die at home, in a context where patient autonomy and euthanasia are legally regulated.


A three-phase process (generation, elaboration and validation). In the generation phase, literature findings were structured and then prioritised in a focus group with GPs of a palliative care consultation network. In the elaboration phase, qualitative data on patients' and caregivers' perspectives were gathered through a focus group with next-of-kin, in-depth interviews with terminal patients, and four quality circle sessions with representatives of all constituencies. In the validation phase, the acceptability of the draft guideline was reviewed in bipolar focus groups (GPs-nurses and GPs-specialists). Finally, comments were solicited from experts by mail.


Primary home care in Belgium.


Participants in this study were terminal patients (n = 17), next-of-kin of terminal patients (n = 17), GPs (n = 25), specialists (n = 3), nurses (n = 8), other caregivers (n = 2) and experts (n = 41).


Caregivers and patients expressed a need for a comprehensive guideline on communication in end-of-life decisions. Four major communication themes were prioritised: truth telling; exploration of the patient's wishes regarding the end of life; dealing with disproportionate interventions; and dealing with requests for euthanasia in the terminal phase of life. Additional themes required special attention in the guideline: continuity of care by the GP; communication on foregoing food and fluid; and technical aspects of euthanasia.


It was feasible to develop a guideline by combining the three cornerstones of evidence-based medicine: literature search, patient values and professional experience.

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