Qualitative critical incident study of patients’ experiences leading to emergency hospital admission with advanced respiratory illness

Eleni Karosouli, Daniel Munday, Cara Bailey, Sophie Staniszewska, Alistair Hewison, Fraces Griffiths

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Objectives The high volume of emergency admissions to hospital is a challenge for health systems internationally. Patients with lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are frequently admitted to hospital as emergency cases. While the frequency of emergency admission has been investigated, few studies report patient experiences, particularly in relation to the decision-making process prior to emergency admission. We sought to explore patient and carer experiences and those of their healthcare professionals in the period leading up to emergency admission to hospital.

Setting 3 UK hospitals located in different urban and rural settings.

Design Qualitative critical incident study.

Participants 24 patients with advanced lung cancer and 15 with advanced COPD admitted to hospital as emergencies, 20 of their carers and 50 of the health professionals involved in the patients’ care.

Results The analysis of patient, carer and professionals’ interviews revealed a detailed picture of the complex processes involved leading to emergency admission to hospital. 3 phases were apparent in this period: self-management of deteriorating symptoms, negotiated decision-making and letting go. These were dynamic processes, characterised by an often rapidly changing clinical condition, uncertainty and anxiety. Patients considered their options drawing on experience, current and earlier advice. Patients tried to avoid admission, reluctantly accepting it, albeit often with a sense of relief, as anxiety increased with worsening symptoms.

Conclusions Patients with advanced respiratory illness, and their carers, try to avoid emergency admission, and use logical and complex decision-making before reluctantly accepting it. Clinicians and policy-makers need to understand this complex process when considering how to reduce emergency hospital admissions rather than focusing on identifying and labelling admissions as ‘inappropriate’.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere009030
Number of pages10
JournalBMJ open
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 25 Feb 2016


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