Attitudes to specialist palliative care and advance care planning in people with COPD: A multi-national survey of palliative and respiratory medicine specialists

Natasha Smallwood, David Currow, Sara Booth, Anna Spathis, Louis Irving, Jennifer Philip

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Background: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) guidelines recommend early access to palliative care together with optimal, disease-directed therapy for people with advanced disease, however, this occurs infrequently. This study explored the approaches of respiratory and palliative medicine specialists to palliative care and advance care planning (ACP) in advanced COPD. Methods: An online survey was emailed to all specialists and trainees in respiratory medicine in Australia and New Zealand (ANZ), and to all palliative medicine specialists and trainees in ANZ and the United Kingdom. Results: Five hundred seventy-seven (33.1%) responses were received, with 440 (25.2%) complete questionnaires included from 177 respiratory and 263 palliative medicine doctors. Most respiratory doctors (140, 80.9%) were very or quite comfortable providing a palliative approach themselves to people with COPD. 113 (63.8%) respiratory doctors recommended referring people with advanced COPD to specialist palliative care, mainly for access to: psychosocial and spiritual care (105, 59.3%), carer support (104, 58.5%), and end-of-life care (94, 53.1%). 432 (98.2%) participants recommended initiating ACP discussions. Palliative medicine doctors were more likely to recommend discussing: what palliative care is (p < 0.0001), what death and dying might be like (p < 0.0001) and prognosis (p = 0.004). Themes highlighted in open responses included: inadequate, fragmented models of care, with limited collaboration or support from palliative care services. Conclusions: While both specialties recognised the significant palliative care and ACP needs of people with advanced COPD, in reality few patients access these elements of care. Formal collaboration and bi-directional support between respiratory and palliative medicine, are required to address these unmet needs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number115
Number of pages8
JournalBMC Palliative Care
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.


  • Advance care planning
  • Attitudes
  • COPD
  • Health professionals
  • Palliative care
  • Survey


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