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Family care conferences in long-term care: Exploring content and processes in end-of-life communication

  • Pamela Durepos (a1), Sharon Kaasalainen (a1), Tamara Sussman (a2), Deborah Parker (a3), Kevin Brazil (a4), Susan Mintzberg (a2) and Alyssa Te (a1)...

End-of-life (EoL) communication in long-term care (LTC) homes is often inadequate and delayed, leaving residents dying with unknown preferences or goals of care. Poor communication with staff contributes to families feeling unprepared, distressed, and dissatisfied with care. Family care conferences (FCCs) aim to increase structured systematic communication around goals and plans for the end of life. As part of the Strengthening a Palliative Approach to Care (SPA–LTC) project, FCCs were implemented in four LTC sites in Ontario, Canada. The purpose of this substudy was to examine FCC content and such guiding processes as documentation and multidisciplinary staff participation.


A total of 24 FCCs were held for residents with a Palliative Performance Scale score of 40% (nearing death). Data were collected from conference forms (i.e., Family Questionnaires, Care Plan Conference Summaries), site-specific electronic chart documents, and fieldnotes. Directed content analysis of data was informed by the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association's Square of Care Model, which describes eight domains of care: disease management, physical, psychological, social, practical, spiritual, EoL, and loss/bereavement.


The FCCs addressed an average of 71% of the content domains, with physical and EoL care addressed most frequently and loss/bereavement addressed the least. Two goals and five interventions were documented and planned on average per FCC. Examination of the processes supporting EoL communication found: (1) advantages to using FCC forms versus electronic charts; and (2) high levels of multidisciplinary participation overall but limited participation of personal support workers (PSWs) and physicians.

Significance of Results:

Communication around the end of life in LTC can be supported through the use of FCCs. Description of content and FCC processes provides guidance to persons implementing FCCs. Recommendations for tailoring conferences to optimize communication include use of specific conference forms, increased bereavement discussion, and further engagement of PSWs and physicians.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Sharon Kaasalainen, Faculty of Health Sciences, 3N25F, McMaster University, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, Ontario L8N 3Z5, Canada. E-mail:
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