OBJECTIVE: To examine trends in end-of-life communication with people with cancer in general practice.
METHODS: Mortality follow-back survey among general practitioners (GPs) in representative epidemiological surveillance networks in Belgium (BE), the Netherlands (NL) and Spain (ES) in 2009-2010 (ES: 2010-2011) and 2013-2014. Using a standardised form, GPs registered all deceased adult patients in their practice and reported for five end-of-life care topics whether they had been discussed with the patient. Non-sudden cancer deaths were included (n=2306; BE: 1233; NL: 729; ES: 344).
RESULTS: A statistically significant increase was found between 2009/2010 and 2014 in the prevalence of communication about diagnosis (from 84% to 94%) and options for end-of-life care (from 73% to 90%) in BE, and in GPs' awareness of patients' preferences for medical treatment and a proxy decision-maker in BE (from 41% and 20% up to 53% and 28%) and the NL (from 62% and 32% up to 70% and 52%). Communication about options for end-of-life care and psychosocial problems decreased in the NL (from 88% and 91% down to 73%) and ES (from 76% and 77% down to 26% and 39%).
CONCLUSION: Considerable change in GP-patient communication seems possible in a relatively short time span, but communication cannot be assumed to increase over time. Increasing specialisation of care and task differentiation may lead to new roles in communication for healthcare providers in primary and secondary care. Improved information sharing between GPs and other healthcare providers may be necessary to ensure that patients have the chance to discuss important end-of-life topics.