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Palliative homecare is associated with reduced high- and low- acuity emergency department visits at the end of life: a population-based cohort study of cancer decedents


Background — Prior work shows that palliative homecare services reduce the subsequent need for hospitalizations and emergency services; however, no study has investigated whether this association is present for emergency department visits of high acuity or whether it only applies to low-acuity emergency department visits.

Aim — To examine the association between palliative versus standard homecare nursing and the rate of high-acuity and low-acuity emergency department visits among cancer decedents during their last 6 months of life.

Design — This is a retrospective cohort study of end-of-life homecare patients in Ontario, Canada, who had confirmed cancer cause of death from 2004 to 2009. A multivariable Poisson regression analysis was implemented to examine the association between the receipt of palliative homecare nursing (vs standard homecare nursing) and the rate of high- and low-acuity emergency department visits, separately.

Results — There were 54,743 decedents who received homecare nursing in the last 6 months of life. The receipt of palliative homecare nursing decreased the rate of low-acuity emergency department visits (relative rate = 0.53, 95% confidence interval = 0.50–0.56) and was significantly associated with a larger decrease in the rate of high-acuity emergency department visits (relative rate = 0.37, 95% confidence interval = 0.35–0.38).

Conclusion — Receiving homecare nursing with palliative intent may decrease the need for dying cancer patients to visit the emergency department, for both high and low-acuity visits, compared to receiving general homecare nursing. Policy implications include building support for additional training in palliative care to generalist homecare nurses and increasing access to palliative homecare nursing.



Sutradhar R, Barbera L, Seow HY. Palliat Med. 2017; 31(5):448-55. Epub 2016 Aug 9.

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