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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Family meetings in palliative care: Multidisciplinary clinical practice guidelines

Peter Hudson1*, Karen Quinn1, Brendan O'Hanlon2 and Sanchia Aranda3

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Palliative Care Education & Research, St Vincent's and The University of Melbourne, PO Box 2900, Fitzroy, Victoria 3065, Australia

2 The Bouverie Centre, La Trobe University, 8 Gardiner Street, Brunswick, Victoria 3056, Australia

3 School of Nursing and Social Work, The University of Melbourne, Level 5, 234 Queensberry Street, Carlton, Victoria 3010, Australia

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BMC Palliative Care 2008, 7:12  doi:10.1186/1472-684X-7-12

Published: 19 August 2008



Support for family carers is a core function of palliative care. Family meetings are commonly recommended as a useful way for health care professionals to convey information, discuss goals of care and plan care strategies with patients and family carers. Yet it seems there is insufficient research to demonstrate the utlility of family meetings or the best way to conduct them. This study sought to develop multidisciplinary clinical practice guidelines for conducting family meetings in the specialist palliative care setting based on available evidence and consensus based expert opinion.


The guidelines were developed via the following methods: (1) A literature review; (2) Conceptual framework; (3) Refinement of the guidelines based on feedback from an expert panel and focus groups with multidisciplinary specialists from three palliative care units and three major teaching hospitals in Melbourne, Australia.


The literature review revealed that no comprehensive exploration of the conduct and utility of family meetings in the specialist palliative care setting has occurred. Preliminary clinical guidelines were developed by the research team, based on relevant literature and a conceptual framework informed by: single session therapy, principles of therapeutic communication and models of coping and family consultation. A multidisciplinary expert panel refined the content of the guidelines and the applicability of the guidelines was then assessed via two focus groups of multidisciplinary palliative care specialists. The complete version of the guidelines is presented.


Family meetings provide an opportunity to enhance the quality of care provided to palliative care patients and their family carers. The clinical guidelines developed from this study offer a framework for preparing, conducting and evaluating family meetings. Future research and clinical implications are outlined.