WHO recommends early integration of palliative care alongside usual care to improve quality of life, although misunderstanding of palliative care may impede this. We compared the public’s perceived and actual knowledge of palliative care, and examined the relationship of this knowledge to attitudes concerning palliative care.
We analysed data from a survey of a representative sample of the Canadian public, accessed through a survey panel in May–June 2019. We compared high perceived knowledge (‘know what palliative care is and could explain it’) with actual knowledge of the WHO definition (knew ≥5/8 components, including that palliative care can be provided early in the illness and together with life-prolonging treatments), and examined their associations with attitudes to palliative care.
Of 1518 adult participants residing in Canada, 45% had high perceived knowledge, of whom 46% had high actual knowledge. Participants with high (vs low) perceived knowledge were more likely to associate palliative care with end-of-life care (adjusted OR 2.15 (95% CI 1.66 to 2.79), p<0.0001) and less likely to believe it offered hope (0.62 (95% CI 0.47 to 0.81), p=0.0004). Conversely, participants with high (vs low) actual knowledge were less likely to find palliative care fearful (0.67 (95% CI 0.52 to 0.86), p=0.002) or depressing (0.72 (95% CI 0.56 to 0.93), p=0.01) and more likely to believe it offered hope (1.88 (95% CI 1.46 to 2.43), p<0.0001).
Stigma regarding palliative care may be perpetuated by those who falsely believe they understand its meaning. Public health education is needed to increase knowledge about palliative care, promote its early integration and counter false assumptions.