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'Worried to death': the assessment and management of anxiety in patients with advanced life-limiting disease, a national survey of palliative medicine physicians

Atkin, N; Vickerstaff, V; Candy, B; (2017) 'Worried to death': the assessment and management of anxiety in patients with advanced life-limiting disease, a national survey of palliative medicine physicians. BMC Palliative Care , 16 , Article 69. 10.1186/s12904-017-0245-5. Green open access

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Abstract

Background: Anxiety adversely affects quality of life and is common in adults with advanced life-limiting disease. There are no UK-wide guidelines on the assessment and management of anxiety in this specific population and there is little evidence regarding drug treatments. This study aimed to explore how palliative care physicians assess and manage anxiety in their patients, and to identify barriers encountered. / Methods: A cross-sectional survey was undertaken of all physicians working in specialist palliative care in the UK who were members of the Association for Palliative Medicine. This was conducted in February 2014 using an online questionnaire. / Results: The response rate was 23% (230/980) and 61% of respondents were consultants. Most did not use tools to screen for anxiety (87%) and almost all used the clinical interview to diagnose anxiety (99%). Only 8% used psychiatric criteria. Most physicians reported difficulties managing anxiety (93%). Only 33% thought they had adequate training in this area. Most had difficulty accessing psychological and/or psychiatric services (71%, 64% respectively). The majority used a combination of pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments for anxiety. The most frequently prescribed first-line medications for patients with a prognosis of days to weeks were benzodiazepines (93%), usually lorazepam. The use of benzodiazepines over antidepressants was statistically significant (p < 0.001). For patients with a prognosis of months, antidepressants were most frequently prescribed first-line (60%), significantly more than benzodiazepines (p < 0.001). However, benzodiazepine use was still common in this prognostic group with 47% prescribing it first-line, sometimes in combination with an antidepressant. / Conclusion: This is the first national survey on the assessment and management of anxiety in palliative care. Findings demonstrate the infrequent use of screening tools, variation in prescribing practice, potentially inappropriate use of benzodiazepines for patients with a prognosis of months, training gaps and poor access to psychological and psychiatric services in the UK. This highlights the need for formal training, further research into the pharmacological management of anxiety in this population and evidence-based national guidance to support clinical decision-making and service development.

Type: Article
Title: 'Worried to death': the assessment and management of anxiety in patients with advanced life-limiting disease, a national survey of palliative medicine physicians
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1186/s12904-017-0245-5
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12904-017-0245-5
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author(s) 2017. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
Keywords: Palliative care, Anxiety, Health care surveys, Physicians
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Division of Psychiatry
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10038783
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