GPs’ decisions about prescribing end-of-life anticipatory medications: a qualitative study
Ben Bowers, Sam S Barclay, Kristian Pollock and Stephen Barclay
Background: GPs have a central role in decisions about prescribing anticipatory medications to help control symptoms at the end of life. Little is known about GPs’ decision-making processes in prescribing anticipatory medications, how they discuss this with patients and families, or the subsequent use of prescribed drugs. Aim: To explore GPs’ decision-making processes in the prescribing and use of anticipatory medications for patients at the end of life. Design and setting: A qualitative interview study with GPs working in one English county. Method: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of 13 GPs. Interview transcripts were analysed inductively using thematic analysis. Results: Three themes were constructed from the data: something we can do, getting the timing right, and delegating care while retaining responsibility. Anticipatory medications were a tangible intervention GPs felt they could offer patients approaching death (something we can do). The prescribing of anticipatory medications was recognised as a harbinger of death for patients and their families. Nevertheless, GPs preferred to discuss and prescribe anticipatory medications weeks before death was expected whenever possible (getting the timing right). After prescribing medications, GPs relied on nurses to assess when to administer drugs and keep them updated about their use (delegating care while retaining responsibility). Conclusion: GPs view anticipatory medications as key to symptom management for patients at the end of life. The drugs are often presented as a clinical recommendation to ensure patients and families accept the prescription. GPs need regular access to nurses and rely on their skills to administer drugs appropriately. Patients’ and families’ experiences of anticipatory medications, and their preferences for involvement in decision making, warrant urgent investigation.