Integrating Machine-Generated Mortality Estimates and Behavioral Nudges to Promote Serious Illness Conversations for Cancer Patients: Design and Methods for a Stepped-Wedge Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial

Abstract [from journal]

Introduction: Patients with cancer often receive care that is not aligned with their personal values and goals. Serious illness conversations (SICs) between clinicians and patients can help increase a patient's understanding of their prognosis, goals and values.

Methods and Analysis: In this study, we describe the design of a stepped-wedge cluster randomized trial to evaluate the impact of an intervention that employs machine learning-based prognostic algorithms and behavioral nudges to prompt oncologists to have SICs with patients at high risk of short-term mortality. Data are collected on documented SICs, documented advance care planning discussions, and end-of-life care utilization (emergency room and inpatient admissions, chemotherapy and hospice utilization) for patients of all enrolled clinicians.

Conclusion: This trial represents a novel application of machine-generated mortality predictions combined with behavioral nudges in the routine care of outpatients with cancer. Findings from the trial may inform strategies to encourage early serious illness conversations and the application of mortality risk predictions in clinical settings.

Trial Registration: Clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT03984773.