What is the evidence for conducting palliative care family meetings? A systematic review

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Journal Article
Palliative Medicine, 2017, 31 (3), pp. 197 - 211
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© The Author(s) 2016. Background: Structured family meeting procedures and guidelines suggest that these forums enhance family-patient-team communication in the palliative care inpatient setting. However, the vulnerability of palliative patients and the resources required to implement family meetings in accordance with recommended guidelines make better understanding about the effectiveness of this type of intervention an important priority. Aim and design: This systematic review examines the evidence supporting family meetings as a strategy to address the needs of palliative patients and their families. The review conforms to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses Statement. Data sources: Six medical and psychosocial databases and "CareSearch," a palliative care-specific database, were used to identify studies reporting empirical data, published in English in peer-reviewed journals from 1980 to March 2015. Book chapters, expert opinion, and gray literature were excluded. The Cochrane Collaboration Tool assessed risk of bias. Results: Of the 5051 articles identified, 13 met the inclusion criteria: 10 quantitative and 3 qualitative studies. There was low-level evidence to support family meetings. Only two quantitative pre- and post-studies used a validated palliative care family outcome measure with both studies reporting significant results post-family meetings. Four other quantitative studies reported significant results using non-validated measures. Conclusion: Despite the existence of consensus-based family meeting guidelines, there is a paucity of evidence to support family meetings in the inpatient palliative care setting. Further research using more robust designs, validated outcome measures, and an economic analysis are required to build the family meeting evidence before they are routinely adopted into clinical practice.
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