Are Surprise Questions and Probabilistic Questions by Nurses Useful in Home Palliative Care? A Prospective Study

Sang Yeon Suh, Seok Joon Yoon*, Cheng Pei Lin, David Hui

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Surprise questions (SQs) are used as screening tools in palliative care. Probabilistic questions (PQs) are more accurate than temporal predictions. However, no study has examined the usefulness of SQs and PQs assessed by nurses. Objectives: To examine the accuracy of nurses’ SQ and PQ assessments in patients with advanced cancer receiving home palliative care. Design: A prospective single-center cohort study. Setting/Subjects: Adult patients with advanced cancer who received palliative care at home in South Korea between 2019 and 2020. Measurements: Palliative care specialized nurses were asked the SQ, “Would you be surprised if the patient died in a specific timeframe?” and PQ, “What is the probability that this patient will be alive (0 to 100%) within a specific timeframe?” at the 1-, 2-, 4-, and 6-week timeframes at enrollment. We calculated the sensitivities and specificities of the SQs and PQs. Results: 81 patients were recruited with 47 days of median survival. The sensitivity, specificity, and overall accuracy (OA) of the 1-week SQ were 50.0, 93.2, and 88.9%, respectively. The accuracies for the 1-week PQ were 12.5, 100.0, and 91.3%, respectively. The 6-week SQ showed sensitivity, specificity, and OA of 84.6, 42.9, and 62.9%, respectively; the accuracies for the 6-week PQ were 59.0, 66.7, and 63.0%, respectively. Conclusion: The SQ and PQ showed acceptable accuracy in home palliative care patients. Interestingly, PQ showed higher specificity than SQ at all timeframes. The SQ and PQ assessed by nurses may be useful in providing additional prognostic information for home palliative care.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAmerican Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • advanced cancer
  • nurses
  • palliative care
  • probabilistic question
  • prognostication
  • surprise question


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