Goals-of-Care Decisions by Hospitalized Patients With Advanced Cancer: Missed Clinician Opportunities for Facilitating Shared Decision-Making

Rashmi K. Sharma*, Kenzie A. Cameron, Jennifer M. Zech, Sasha F. Jones, J. Randall Curtis, Ruth A. Engelberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Context: Hospitalized patients with advanced cancer often face complex, preference-sensitive decisions. How clinicians and patients engage in shared decision-making during goals-of-care discussions is not well understood. Objective: The objective of this study was to explore decision-making by patients and clinicians during inpatient goals-of-care discussions. Methods: This is a qualitative study of audio-recorded goals-of-care discussions between hospitalized patients with advanced cancer and their clinicians. Grounded theory was used to analyze transcripts. Results: Sixty-two patients participated in goals-of-care discussions with 51 unique clinicians. Nearly half of patients (n = 30) were female and their mean age was 60.1 years (SD = 12.7). A palliative care attending or fellow was present in 58 of the 62 discussions. Decisions centered on three topics: 1) disease-modifying treatments; 2) hospice; and 3) code status. Clinicians' approach to decision-making included the following stages: “information exchange,” “deliberation,” “making a patient-centered recommendation,” and “wrap-up: decisional status.” Successful completion of each stage varied by the type of decision. When discussing code status, clinicians missed opportunities to engage patients in information exchange and to wrap up decisional status. By contrast, clinicians discussing disease-modifying treatments and hospice failed to integrate patient preferences. Clinicians also missed opportunities to make patient-centered recommendations when discussing treatment decisions. Conclusion: Clinicians missed opportunities to facilitate shared decision-making regarding goals of care, and these missed opportunities differed by type of decision being discussed. Opportunities for clinician communication training include engagement in collaborative deliberation with patients and making patient-centered recommendations in situations of high medical uncertainty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)216-223
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2019


  • Decision-making
  • cancer
  • communication
  • palliative care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine
  • General Nursing


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