BACKGROUND: Safeguarding the dignity of patients at the end of life is a key objective in palliative care practice in Denmark. The concept of dignity and how it influences a dying persons' quality of life is thus influential in end-of-life care at hospices. However, what is meant by dignity, how dignity is understood and practiced by healthcare professionals in Danish hospices, and whether this relates to the patients' understandings and needs concerning dignity remains unanswered.
AIM: The aim of this study was to explore and improve dignity in care through an action research study with patients and hospice staff at two different hospices in Denmark. This was done by exploring how patients and healthcare professionals expressed their understandings and needs concerning dignity and involving participants in the research process with the goal of improving dignity in care.
METHODS: An action research method with reflection-of-praxis and action-in-praxis was applied. It was combined with methods of semi-structured individual interviews with twelve patients, five staff and nine focus-group interviews with staff.
RESULTS: Three themes emerged from the analysis of data. The themes were as follows: (1) being understood, (2) contributing and (3) holistic care. Deeper analysis indicated that staff understandings of dignity mostly focused on preserving patients' autonomy, whereas patients expressed needs for relational and spiritual aspects of dignity. Staff were mostly concerned about preserving patients' autonomy when providing dignity in care, however, through the action-in-praxis they increased their awareness on their own praxis and patients' needs and understanding concerning dignity. The theoretical model on dignity presented in the study also worked as a map to guide staffs' reflections on dignity in praxis and facilitated a broader focus on supporting and caring for patients' dignity in care. We believe this study has improved dignity in care at the two hospices involved in the study.