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Delivery of palliative care in acute care hospitals: a population-based retrospective cohort study describing the level of involvement and timing of inpatient palliative care in the last year of life


Background — Much end-of-life care is provided in hospital, yet little is known about the delivery of palliative care during end-of-life hospitalizations. 

Objectives — To characterize the level of palliative care involvement across hospitalizations in the last year of life. 

Methods — A population-based retrospective cohort study of adults in Ontario, Canada, who died between April 1, 2012, and March 31, 2017, and had at least one acute care hospitalization in their last year of life. Using linked administrative health data, we developed a hierarchy of inpatient palliative care involvement reflecting the degree to which care was delivered with palliative intent. This hierarchy was based on palliative care diagnosis and service provider codes on hospitalization records and physician claims. We examined variations in the level of palliative care involvement across key patient characteristics. 

Results — In the last year of life, 65.1% of hospitalizations had no indication of palliative care involvement, 16.7% had a low level of involvement, 13.5% had a medium level of involvement, and 4.7% had a high level of involvement. Most hospitalizations with palliative care involvement (85.6%) occurred in the two months before death. Compared to patients who received no inpatient palliative care, patients who received a high level of palliative care involvement tended to be younger, died of cancer, resided in urban or lower income neighborhoods, and had fewer chronic conditions. 

Discussion — While many hospitalizations occurred in the last year of life, the majority did not involve palliative care, and very few had a high level of palliative care involvement.



Webber C, Chan R, Scott M, Brown C, Spruin S, Hsu AT, Bush SH, Isenberg SR, Quinn K, Scott J, Tanuseputro P. J Palliat Med. 2021; 24(7):1000-10. Epub 2020 Dec 18.

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