Doctors' Perspectives on Law and Life-Sustaining Treatment: Survey Design and Recruitment Strategies for a Challenging Cohort
Progress in Palliative Care: Science and the Art of Caring, Forthcoming
Posted: 30 Jun 2016 Last revised: 14 Jul 2016
Date Written: 2016
Background: Palliative medicine and other specialists play significant legal roles in decisions to withhold and withdraw life-sustaining treatment at the end of life. Yet little is known about their knowledge of or attitudes to the law, and the role they think it should play in medical practice. Consideration of doctors’ views is critical to optimizing patient outcomes at the end of life. However, doctors are difficult to engage as participants in empirical research, presenting challenges for researchers seeking to understand doctors’ experiences and perspectives.
Aims: To determine how to engage doctors involved in end-of-life care in empirical research about knowledge of the law and the role it plays in medical practice at the end of life.
Methods: Postal survey of all specialists in palliative medicine, emergency medicine, geriatric medicine, intensive care, medical oncology, renal medicine, and respiratory medicine in three Australian states: New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland. The survey was sent in hard copy with two reminders and a follow up reminder letter was also sent to the directors of hospital emergency departments. Awareness was further promoted through engagement with the relevant medical colleges and publications in professional journals; various incentives to respond were also used. The key measure is the response rate of doctors to the survey.
Results: Thirty-two percent of doctors in the main study completed their survey with response rate by specialty ranging from 52% (palliative care) to 24% (medical oncology). This overall response rate was twice that of the re-weighted pilot study (16%).
Conclusions: Doctors remain a difficult cohort to engage in survey research but strategic recruitment efforts can be effective in increasing response rate. Collaboration with doctors and their professional bodies in both the development of the survey instrument and recruitment of participants is essential.
Keywords: Health Law, Medical Law, Adult Guardianship Law, Withholding and Withdrawing Life-Sustaining Treatment, Palliative Care, Knowledge of Law, Compliance with Law, Survey of Doctors, End of Life Decision-Making, Research Methods
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