A realist review of advance care planning for people with multiple sclerosis and their families

Laura Cottrell, Guillaume Economos, Catherine Evans, Eli Silber, Rachel Burman, Richard Nicholas, Bobbie Farsides, Stephen Ashford, Jonathan Simon Koffman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Background Advance care planning (ACP) is reported to improve the quality of outcomes of care among those with life-limiting conditions. However, uptake is low among people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) and little is known about why or how people with MS engage in this process of decision-making. Aims To develop and refine an initial theory on engagement in ACP for people with MS and to identify ways to improve its uptake for those who desire it. Methods Realist review following published protocol and reporting following Realist and Meta-narrative Evidence Synthesis: Evolving Standards (RAMESES) guidelines. A multi-disciplinary team searched MEDLINE, PsychInfo, CINAHL, Scopus, Web of Science, Embase, Google Scholar in addition to other sources from inception to August 2019. Quantitative or qualitative studies, case reports, and opinion or discussion articles related to ACP and/or end of life discussions in the context of MS were included, as well as one article on physical disability and one on motor neuron disease, that contributed important contextual information. Researchers independently screened abstracts and extracted data from full-text articles. Using abductive and retroductive analysis, each article was examined for evidence to support or refute 'context, mechanism, and outcome' (CMO) hypotheses, using the Integrated Behaviour Model to guide theory development. Quality was assessed according to methodological rigour and relevance of evidence. Those studies providing rich descriptions were synthesised using a realist matrix to identify commonalities across CMO configurations. Results Of the 4,034 articles identified, 33 articles were included in the synthesis that supported six CMO hypotheses that identified contexts and mechanisms underpinning engagement in ACP for people with MS and included: Acceptance of their situation, prior experiences, confidence, empowerment, fear (of being a burden, of death and of dying) and the desire for autonomy. Acceptance of self as a person with a life-limiting illness was imperative as it enabled people with MS to see ACP as pertinent to them. We identified the context of MS- its long, uncertain disease trajectory with periods of stability punctuated by crisis-inhibited triggering of mechanisms. Similarly, the absence of skills and confidence in advanced communication skills among health professionals prevented possibilities for ACP discussions taking place. Conclusion Although mechanisms are inhibited by the context of MS, health professionals can facilitate greater uptake of ACP among those people with MS who want it by developing their skills in communication, building trusting relationships, sharing accurate prognostic information and sensitively discussing death and dying.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0240815
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10 October
Publication statusPublished - 16 Oct 2020


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