Palliative care in its own discourse: a focused ethnography of professional messaging in palliative care
Carla Reigada 1 2 , Maria Arantzamendi 3 4 , Carlos Centeno 3 4 5
Background: Despite 50 years of modern palliative care (PC), a misunderstanding of its purpose persists. The original message that PC is focused on total care, helping to live until the person dies, is being replaced and linked to feelings of fear, anxiety and death, instead of compassion, support or appropriate care. Society is still afraid to speak its name, and specialized units are identified as "places of death" as opposed to "places of life" meant to treat suffering. This issue is prohibitive to the implementation and development of PC policies worldwide. It is imperative to identify what message PC professionals are relaying to patients and other health care specialists and how that message may condition understandings of the right to access PC.
Methods: A qualitative study, employing focused ethnography and participant observation (PO) of the daily interaction of PC professionals with patients and family members in three different PC services. Two researchers independently conducted a thematic analysis, followed by member checking with participants.
Results: A total of 242 h of participant observation revealed the following messages sent by PC professionals in their daily interaction with patients and families: i) We are focused on your wellbeing; ii) You matter: we want to get to know you; iii) Your family is important to us.
Conclusion: The complexity of PC discourses contributes to the difficulty of identifying a clear universal message between PC professionals, patients and families. The PC professionals observed transmit a simple message focused on their actions rather than their identity, which may perpetuate some social/cultural misunderstandings of PC. It seems there is a common culture, based on the same values and attitudes, within the messages that PC professionals transmit to patients and their families. PC teams are characterised by their availability.