Center for Advanced Practice


Seven Types of Uncertainty When Clinicians Care for Pediatric Patients With Advanced Cancer.

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Journal of pain and symptom management

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CONTEXT: Clinicians deciding whether to refer a patient or family to specialty palliative care report facing high levels of uncertainty. Most research on medical uncertainty has focused on prognostic uncertainty. As part of a pediatric palliative referral intervention for oncology teams we explored how uncertainty might influence palliative care referrals.

OBJECTIVES: To describe distinct meanings of the term "uncertainty" that emerged during the qualitative evaluation of the development and implementation of an intervention to help oncologists overcome barriers to palliative care referrals.

METHODS: We conducted a phenomenological qualitative analysis of "uncertainty" as experienced and described by interdisciplinary pediatric oncology team members in discussions, group activities and semistructured interviews regarding the introduction of palliative care.

RESULTS: We found that clinicians caring for patients with advanced cancer confront seven broad categories of uncertainty: prognostic, informational, individual, communication, relational, collegial, and inter-institutional. Each of these kinds of uncertainty can contribute to delays in referring patients to palliative care.

CONCLUSION: Various types of uncertainty arise in the care of pediatric patients with advanced cancer. To manage these forms of uncertainty, providers need to develop strategies and techniques to handle professionally challenging situations, communicate bad news, manage difficult interactions with families and colleagues, and collaborate with other organizations.


Attitude of Health Personnel, Child, Communication, Humans, Neoplasms, Oncologists, Palliative Care, Qualitative Research, Uncertainty



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