Inviting the Patient to Talk About a Conversation They Had with Another Healthcare Practitioner: A Way of Promoting Discussion About Disease Progression and End of Life in Palliative Care Interactions.
Discussing disease progression is a core task in palliative care. This is especially important when there are indications that a patient considers their death as less imminent than the clinical team does. This article examines a communicative action that palliative medicine doctors use to address such discrepancies in knowledge and understanding of the patient's prognosis: inviting the patient to talk about the contents of a conversation they had with another healthcare practitioner. The study used conversation analysis to examine five consultations in which this action was identified. These were part of a larger data set of 37 consultations recorded in a large UK hospice and involving patients with palliative care needs, sometimes accompanied by family or friends, and palliative medicine doctors. Findings are that the action of inviting the patient to talk about a previous conversation creates an opportunity for patients to articulate what they know and understand about their disease progression - but without requiring them to do so. Discussing such sensitive matters is thus made a matter of 'opting in' (rather than 'opting out'). Doctors thereby avoid being interactionally accountable for directly initiating a potentially distressing topic. The article shows how the task of discussing disease progression and end of life is intertwined with the delicate management of patients' displayed states of awareness regarding their disease progression. The study thus has practical implications by documenting ways in which clinicians can help patients realign their expectations about such delicate matters.