Defining ‘specialist palliative care’: findings from a Delphi study of clinicians

Liz Forbat, Nikki Johnston OAM , Imogen Mitchell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: This study aimed to achieve consensus regarding what distinguishes specialist from non-specialist palliative care to inform service organisation and delivery to patients with life-limiting conditions. Methods: A three-phase Delphi study was undertaken, involving qualitative interviews and two questionnaire cycles. Thirty-one clinicians (nurses, doctors and social workers) working with a wide range of patients participated in interviews, of whom 27 completed two questionnaire cycles. Results: Consensus was gained on 75 items that define specialist palliative care and distinguish it from non-specialist palliative care. Consensus was gained that specialist palliative care clinicians have advanced knowledge of identifying dying, skills to assess and manage complex symptoms to improve quality of life, have advanced communication skills and perform distinct clinical practices (e.g. working with the whole family as the unit of care and providing support in complex bereavement). Non-specialist palliative care involves discussions around futile or burdensome treatments, and care for people who are dying. Conclusions: Areas of connection were identified: clinicians from disease-specific specialties should be more involved in leading discussions on futile or burdensome treatment and providing care to people in their last months and days of life, in collaboration with specialists in palliative care when required. What is known about the topic?: At present there is no evidence-based definition or agreement about what constitutes specialist palliative care (as opposed to palliative care delivered by non-specialists) in the Australian Capital Territory. An agreed definition is needed to effectively determine the workforce required and its clinical skill mix, and to clarify roles and expectations to mitigate risks in not adequately providing services to patients with life-limiting conditions. What does this paper add?: This paper offers, for the first time, an evidence-based definition that distinguishes specialist palliative care from non-specialist palliative care. End of life care and bereavement support are not just the remit of specialist palliative care clinicians. Clinicians from beyond specialist palliative care should lead discussions about futile or burdensome treatment. What are the implications for practitioners?: The findings of this study can facilitate implementation of palliative care strategies by enabling practitioners and patients to distinguish who should be delivering what care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalAustralia Health Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Defining ‘specialist palliative care’: findings from a Delphi study of clinicians'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this