End-of-life communication at the Canberra Hospital

End-of-life communication at the Canberra Hospital

About the project

In 2018, ICH received funding from the ANU Research School of Humanities and the Arts to conduct a pilot study on end-of-life communication in the intensive care unit (ICU) at the Canberra Hospital.

The focus of this pilot project was to describe and analyse the communication practices of doctors in end-of-life interactions in the Canberra Hospital ICU, which offers critical care across 31 beds and treats around 2,220 patients from the ACT and South Eastern NSW annually.

Few patients come into the Canberra Hospital ICU having had an end-of-life conversation, or with an Advance Care Plan in place. Clinicians are therefore considered to be responsible for raising end-of-life with patients and families. However, healthcare professionals often feel inadequately trained to hold frank conversations about death and dying.

International evidence demonstrates that effective communication about goals of care, prognoses and treatment options provides patients with a better quality of life and minimises family distress. Improving clinician communication skills is therefore essential to achieving high-quality end-of-life care.

By analysing authentic recorded end-of-life interactions, an interdisciplinary team of linguists from the ICH and medical academics from the ANU Medical School has created an evidence base. This has informed the development of communication protocols and context-sensitive recommendations that contribute to achieving a safe and high-quality end-of-life care experience.

With the research now concluded in the Canberra Hospital ICU, this project is being extended to two further wards—Geriatrics and Oncology—with the assistance of the Canberra Health Services Private Practice Trust Fund grant

Project team

  • Diana Slade, Professor of Applied Linguistics and Director Institute for Communication in Health Care
  • Imogen Mitchell, Clinical Director, ACT Territory Wide COVID19 Taskforce, Canberra Health Services; Director, ANU Medical School
  • Brett Scholz, Senior Research Fellow, ANU Medical School
  • Suzanne Eggins, Research Fellow, Australian National University
  • Michael Chapman, Director, Palliative Care, Canberra Health Services
  • Liza Goncharov, Manager, Institute for Communication in Health Care
  • Maria Dahm, Research Fellow, Institute for Communication in Health Care

Publications and news

Project contact

Laura Chien

Updated:  14 June 2022/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications