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J Palliat Med. 2012 Apr;15(4):381-7. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2011.0427.

Development of a content valid tool for assessing end-of-life communication in acute care settings.

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  • 1Division of Emergency Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine and Wayne State University School of Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine.



Current recommendations throughout the literature require that physicians demonstrate proficiency in handling end-of-life care issues. However, current training and assessment tools are not easily translated to acutely decompensating emergency department patients with whom the practitioner is not familiar. Without these tools, robust assessment of physician performance cannot occur.


To develop a content valid instrument to measure the critical care communication skills of emergency physicians in order to facilitate education and assessment of end-of-life communication skills in a time-sensitive acute care setting.


A two-step modified Delphi methodology with emergency medicine palliative care subject matter experts was used. First, an extensive review of the literature was conducted to elucidate broad communication domains important to end-of-life care. Next, subject matter experts were asked open-ended questions to ascertain critical skills and behaviors that characterized these broad domains. Finally, both questions and domains were ranked as to their importance and relevance to end-of-life communication in an emergency department setting.


Literature review identified five domains of end-of-life care: (1) seek information, (2) assess life values, (3) educate family, (4) extend care in a consistent manner, and (5) respond to family questions and concerns. Within each domain, the expert panel identified subdomains with related behavioral examples that were consistently rated as important to end-of-life care for emergency practitioners.


The resulting assessment tool provides a list of skill domains with specific descriptors and clear behavioral examples that can be used as both a teaching and assessment tool. This represents an essential first step that will allow further validation of the assessment tool, ultimately producing a valid and reliable measure of physician skill in emergency medicine end-of-life care.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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