Confidence with and Barriers to Serious Illness Communication: A National Survey of Hospitalists

Leah B. Rosenberg, Jeff Greenwald, Bartho Caponi, Ami Doshi, Howard Epstein, Jeff Frank, Elizabeth Lindenberger, Nick Marzano, Lynnea M. Mills, Rab Razzak, James Risser, Wendy G. Anderson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Objective: To describe the concerns, confidence, and barriers of practicing hospitalists around serious illness communication. Background: Hospitalist physicians are optimally positioned to provide primary palliative care, yet their experiences in serious illness communication are not well described. Methods: Web-based survey, conducted in May 2016. The survey link was distributed via email to 4000 members of the Society of Hospital Medicine. The 39-item survey assessed frequency of concerns about serious illness communication, confidence for common tasks, and barriers using Likert-type scales. It was developed by the authors based on prior work, a focus group, and feedback from pilot respondents. Results: We received 332 completed surveys. On most or every shift, many participants reported having concerns about a patient's or family's understanding of prognosis (53%) or the patient's code status (63%). Most participants were either confident or very confident in discussing goals of care (93%) and prognosis (87%). Fewer were confident or very confident in responding to patients or families who had not accepted the seriousness of an illness (59%) or in managing conflict (50%). Other frequently cited barriers were lack of time, lack of prior discussions in the outpatient setting, unrealistic prognostic expectations from other physicians, limited institutional support, and difficulty finding records of previous discussions. Discussion: Our results suggest opportunities to improve hospitalists' ability to lead serious illness communication by increasing the time hospitalists have for discussions, improving documentation systems and communication between inpatient and outpatient clinicians, and targeted training on challenging communication scenarios.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1013-1019
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Palliative Medicine
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2017


  • hospitalists
  • serious illness communication
  • survey research


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