Special Article| Volume 60, ISSUE 3, P657-677.e6, September 2020

An Integrative Framework of Appraisal and Adaptation in Serious Medical Illness


      Multiple randomized clinical trials have demonstrated that palliative care improves the quality of life of individuals with serious medical illness. Research also suggests that in patients with advanced cancer, palliative care's focus on symptom management, coping with illness, goals of care, and treatment decisions may be associated with improved patient quality of life in part by increasing patients' use of active (vs. passive) and approach-oriented (vs. avoidant) coping strategies. However, without a framework outlining the process that individuals with serious medical illness and their loved ones undergo, it is challenging to discern exactly where, how, and why palliative care may affect the serious medical illness experience. To address this gap, we propose a clinically applicable framework, derived from existing theory and research in the social and behavioral sciences. This framework, called the Integrative Framework of Appraisal and Adaptation in Serious Medical Illness, describes how patients and their loved ones cognitively and emotionally process the various events that may occur as they navigate serious medical illness and the end of life. The framework also describes how individuals and their loved ones use that event processing to determine next steps, while considering the impact of their surrounding external environment, their individual social roles, and their connections on this decision making. The framework presented in this article is intended to improve our ability to understand and care for individuals with serious medical illness and their loved ones, while stimulating further discussion and research to test and refine these ideas.

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