Facilitators and barriers to oncologists’ conduct of goals of care conversations

Dena Schulman-Green, Jenny J. Lin, Cardinale B. Smith, Shelli Feder, Nina A. Bickell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Goals of care (GoC) conversations optimally begin early in the course of cancer care, yet most happen near the end of life. We sought to describe oncologist-reported facilitators of and barriers to GoC conversations with patients who have advanced cancer. Methods and Materials: We conducted individual, semistructured qualitative interviews with oncologists from 4 academic, community, municipal, and rural hospitals in New York and Connecticut. Interview topics included approach to GoC conversations, facilitators, barriers, and organizational influences. We analyzed data using interpretive description. We collected demographic and practice information and surveyed oncologists on their communication skills training. We calculated descriptive statistics for quantitative data. Results: Oncologists (n = 21) had a mean age of 46 years (range: 34-68), 67% were male, 71% were White, 24% were Asian, 10% were Hispanic, and 5% were Black. They reported an average of 20 years in practice (range: 8-42), and 62% had received training on having GoC conversations. Facilitators included patient’s poor functional status, patient’s high health literacy, family understanding and acceptance, oncologist’s practice experience, and a supportive practice environment. Barriers included certain patient demographic and clinical characteristics, patient religion and culture, patient’s denial, and lack of time. Conclusion: GoC conversations may be facilitated by enabling oncologists to conduct these conversations despite difficult circumstances and emotional reactions by activating patients and family via increased health literacy and by advancing palliative-informed practice environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)143-148
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of palliative care
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2018


  • Barrier
  • Conversation
  • Facilitator
  • Goal
  • Palliative

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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