Oncologist factors that influence referrals to subspecialty palliative care clinics

Yael Schenker, Megan Crowley-Matoka, Daniel Dohan, Michael W. Rabow, Cardinale B. Smith, Douglas B. White, Edward Chu, Greer A. Tiver, Sara Einhorn, Robert M. Arnold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

137 Scopus citations


Purpose: Recent research and professional guidelines support expanded use of outpatient subspecialty palliative care in oncology, but provider referral practices vary widely. We sought to explore oncologist factors that influence referrals to outpatient palliative care. Methods: Multisite, qualitative interview study at three academic cancer centers in the United States with well-established palliative care clinics. Seventy-four medical oncologists participated in semistructured interviews between February and October 2012. The interview guide asked about experiences and decision making regarding outpatient palliative care use. A multidisciplinary team analyzed interview transcripts using constant comparative methods to inductively develop and refine themes related to palliative care referral decisions. Results: We identified three main oncologist barriers to subspecialty palliative care referrals at sites with comprehensive palliative care clinics: persistent conceptions of palliative care as an alternative philosophy of care incompatible with cancer therapy, a predominant belief that providing palliative care is an integral part of the oncologist's role, and a lack of knowledge about locally available services. Participants described their views of subspecialty palliative care as evolving in response to increasing availability of services and positive referral experiences, but emphasized that views of palliative care as valuable in addition to standard oncology care were not universally shared by oncologists. Conclusions: Improving provision of palliative care in oncology will likely require efforts beyond increasing service availability. Raising awareness of ways in which subspecialty palliative care complements standard oncology care and developing ways for oncologists and palliative care physicians to collaborate and integrate their respective skills may help.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e37-e44
JournalJournal of oncology practice
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Oncology(nursing)
  • Health Policy


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