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Intern Med J. 2014 Apr;44(4):362-8. doi: 10.1111/imj.12379.

Care of the dying cancer patient in the emergency department: findings from a National survey of Australian emergency department clinicians.

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Emergency Practice Innovation Centre (EPIcentre), St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.



Patients with cancer are presenting to emergency departments (ED) for end-of-life care with increasing frequency. Little is known about this experience for patients and ED clinicians in Australia.


To assess the barriers and enablers regarding end-of-life care for cancer patients as perceived by Australian ED clinicians.


There were 4501 Australian ED clinicians invited through their professional colleges to complete an online survey, using multiple-choice and free-text responses.


A total of 681 ED clinicians responded, most (84.2%) felt comfortable providing care to the dying and found it to be rewarding (70.9%). Although 83.8% found caring for the dying a reasonable demand on their role as clinician, 83.8% also agreed that the ED is not the right place to die. Respondents demonstrated a wide range of views regarding caring for this patient group in ED through free-text responses. In addition, 64.5% reported that futile treatment is frequently provided in the ED; the main reasons reported were that limitations of care were not clearly documented, or discussed with the patient or their family. Almost all (94.6%) agreed that advance care plans assist in caring for dying patients in the ED.


Our findings provide important new insights into a growing area of care for ED. Barriers and enablers to optimal care of the dying patient in ED were identified, and especially the reported high occurrence of futile care, likely a result of these barriers, is detrimental to both optimal patient care and allocation of valuable healthcare resources.


emergency medicine; medical futility; neoplasm; palliative care; terminal care

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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