PURPOSE: To investigate the treatment goals of older patients with non-curable cancer, whether those goals changed over time, and if so, what triggered those changes.
METHODS: We performed a descriptive and qualitative analysis using the Outcome Prioritization Tool (OPT) to assess patient goals across four conversations with general practitioners (GPs) over 6 months. Text entries from electronic patient records (hospital and general practice) were then analyzed qualitatively for this period.
RESULTS: Of the 29 included patients, 10 (34%) rated extending life and 9 (31%) rated maintaining independence as their most important goals. Patients in the last year before death (late phase) prioritized extending life less often (3 patients; 21%) than those in the early phase (7 patients; 47%). Goals changed for 16 patients during follow-up (12 in the late phase). Qualitative analysis revealed three themes that explained the baseline OPT scores (prioritizing a specific goal, rating a goal as unimportant, and treatment choices related to goals). Another three themes related to changes in OPT scores (symptoms, disease course, and life events) and stability of OPT scores (stable situation, disease-unrelated motivation, and stability despite symptoms).
CONCLUSION: Patients most often prioritized extending life as the most important goal. However, priorities differed in the late phase of the disease, leading to changed goals. Triggers for change related to both the disease (e.g., symptoms and course) and to other life events. We therefore recommend that goals should be discussed repeatedly, especially near the end of life.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: OPTion study: NTR5419.