Holistic services for people with advanced disease and chronic or refractory breathlessness: a mixed-methods evidence synthesis

Matthew Maddocks, Lisa Jane Brighton, Morag Farquhar, Sara Booth, Sophie Miller, Lara Klass, India Tunnard, Deokhee Yi, Wei Gao, Sabrina Bajwah, William D.-C. Man, Irene J. Higginson

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Background: Breathlessness is a common and distressing symptom of many advanced diseases, affecting around 2 million people in the UK. Breathlessness increases with disease progression and often becomes chronic or refractory. Breathlessness-triggered services that integrate holistic assessment and specialist palliative care input as part of a multiprofessional approach have been developed for this group, offering tailored interventions to support self-management and reduce distress.
Objectives: The aim was to synthesise evidence on holistic breathlessness services for people with advanced disease and chronic or refractory breathlessness. The objectives were to describe the structure, organisation and delivery of services, determine clinical effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and acceptability, identify predictors of treatment response, and elicit stakeholders’ evidence-based priorities for clinical practice, policy and research.
Design: The mixed-methods evidence synthesis comprised three components: (1) a systematic review to determine the clinical effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and acceptability of holistic breathlessness services; (2) a secondary analysis of pooled individual data from three trials to determine predictors of clinical response; and (3) a transparent expert consultation (TEC), comprising a stakeholder workshop and an online consensus survey, to identify stakeholders’ priorities.
Results: Thirty-seven papers reporting on 18 holistic breathlessness services were included in the systematic review. Most studies enrolled people with thoracic cancer, were delivered over 4–6 weeks, and included breathing training, relaxation techniques and psychological support. Meta-analysis demonstrated significant reductions in the Numeric Rating Scale (NRS) distress due to breathlessness, significant reductions in the Hospital Anxiety and Depressions Scale (HADS) depression scores, and non-significant reductions in the Chronic Respiratory Disease Questionnaire (CRQ) mastery and HADS anxiety, favouring the intervention. Recipients valued education, self-management interventions, and expertise of the staff in breathlessness and person-centred care. Evidence for cost-effectiveness was limited and inconclusive. The responder analysis (n = 259) revealed baseline CRQ mastery and NRS distress to be strong predictors of the response to breathlessness services assessed by these same measures, and no significant influence from baseline breathlessness intensity, patient diagnosis, lung function, health status, anxiety or depression. The TEC elicited 34 priorities from stakeholders. Seven priorities received high agreement and consensus, reflecting stakeholders’ (n = 74) views that services should be person-centred and multiprofessional, share their breathlessness management skills with others, and recognise the roles and support needs of informal carers. Limitations: The evidence synthesis draws predominantly from UK services and may not be generalisable to other settings. Some meta-analyses were restricted by reporting biases and statistical heterogeneity. Conclusions: Despite heterogeneity in composition and delivery, holistic breathlessness services are highly valued by recipients and can lead to significant improvements in the distress caused by breathlessness and depression. Outcomes of improved mastery and reduced distress caused by breathlessness are not influenced by patient diagnosis, lung function or health status. Stakeholders highlighted the need for improved access to person-centred, multi professional breathlessness services and support for informal carers. Future work: Our research suggests that key therapeutic components of holistic breathlessness services be considered in clinical practice and models of delivery and educational strategies to address stakeholders’ priorities tested.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019

Publication series

NameHealth Services and Delivery Research
ISSN (Print)2050-4349

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