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Clinical Trial Summary

Patients with cancer often undergo costly therapy and acute care utilization that is discordant with their wishes, particularly at the end of life. Despite early palliative care consultations being a National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guideline-concordant practice in advanced cancer, palliative care referral rates for stage IV patients are low. In this project, the investigators will evaluate a health system initiative that uses behavioral nudges to prompt palliative care referrals among outpatients with advanced cancer in terms of successful palliative care referrals and downstream quality of life outcomes. In partnership with the health system, this will be conducted as a 2-arm pragmatic cluster randomized trial.


Clinical Trial Description

Patients with advanced cancer have poor quality of life and life expectancy. Palliative care is a medical specialty focusing on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of serious illnesses such as cancer. While palliative care referrals often occur in the inpatient setting for acutely ill individuals, early outpatient specialty palliative care concurrent with cancer-directed treatment improves quality of life and survival, is an evidence-based practice, and is endorsed by national guidelines. Palliative care can be provided in the ambulatory, telemedicine, or home-based settings. However, nearly half of patients with advanced cancer do not receive palliative care prior to dying. Lack of standardized referral criteria and screening methods for palliative care contributes to underutilization. There is a high need for strategies to increase use of palliative care in oncology. Clinicians underutilize palliative care, initiating referrals a median of 2 months before death. This status quo bias, which predisposes clinicians to continue current practice even if not the optimal option, may lead to delayed or missed palliative care referrals. Additionally, optimism bias, the cognitive bias that causes clinicians to believe that their own patients are at lesser risk of negative outcomes, may cause clinicians to underestimate a patient's mortality risk or symptom burden, thus delaying palliative care referral. Finally, overconfidence bias, the propensity to overestimate one's desired behaviors when it is not objectively reasonable, may lead clinicians to incorrectly believe they are initiating more palliative care referrals than their peers. Overcoming suboptimal clinician decision-making biases are key to increasing palliative care referrals. Principles from behavioral economics can inform "nudges" that change how clinicians receive information and make choices such as palliative care referral. Default, opt-out nudges that make the optimal choice the path of least resistance can mitigate clinicians' status quo bias. Reframing clinicians' prognoses by providing data-driven life expectancy assessments may combat optimism bias. Early palliative care intervention can improve quality of life for patients with advanced cancer. Outpatient palliative care is available at 98% of National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers and 63% of non-NCI centers. Early outpatient palliative care concurrent with cancer-directed treatment improves quality of life, reduces symptom burden, and decreases rates of aggressive end of life care. Nevertheless, only a minority of patients who qualify for palliative care receive it. The primary objective of the study is to evaluate the impact of sending behavioral nudges to clinicians, as compared to usual practice, on completion of palliative care referrals among patients with advanced cancer. Our secondary objectives are to identify the impact of prompted palliative care referrals on quality of life, acute care utilization, and end-of-life utilization. This is a 2-arm pragmatic randomized trial among approximately 250 outpatients with advanced cancer to assess response to behavioral nudges to refer to palliative care. The setting will be outpatient oncology at the Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute at Lancaster General Health. Eligible clinicians will be randomized in clusters by overlapping clinical team (pod) to receive default electronic medical record-based prompts for palliative care referral among advanced cancer patients (Arm 1) vs no intervention/usual practice (Arm 2). These nudges have been shown to positively influence clinician behavior and are often used to drive value-based oncology care; however, they have never been studied in the context of palliative care referral. The primary outcome is completion of a palliative care referral within 12 weeks of enrollment. ;


Study Design


Related Conditions & MeSH terms


NCT number NCT05365997
Study type Interventional
Source Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Contact William Ferrell, MPH
Phone 215 746 8671
Email [email protected]
Status Not yet recruiting
Phase N/A
Start date May 2022
Completion date April 2023

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