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Quality of end-of-life cancer care in Canada: a retrospective four-province study using administrative healthcare data


Background — The quality of data comparing care at the end of life (eol) in cancer patients across Canada is poor. This project used identical cohorts and definitions to evaluate quality indicators for eol care in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Nova Scotia.

Methods — This retrospective cohort study of cancer decedents during fiscal years 2004-2009 used administrative healthcare data to examine health service quality indicators commonly used and previously identified as important to quality eol care: emergency department use, hospitalizations, intensive care unit admissions, chemotherapy, physician house calls, and home care visits near the eol, as well as death in hospital. Crude and standardized rates were calculated. In each province, two separate multivariable logistic regression models examined factors associated with receiving aggressive or supportive care.

Results — Overall, among the identified 200,285 cancer patients who died of their disease, 54% died in a hospital, with British Columbia having the lowest standardized rate of such deaths (50.2%). Emergency department use at eol ranged from 30.7% in Nova Scotia to 47.9% in Ontario. Of all patients, 8.7% received aggressive care (similar across all provinces), and 46.3% received supportive care (range: 41.2% in Nova Scotia to 61.8% in British Columbia). Lower neighbourhood income was consistently associated with a decreased likelihood of supportive care receipt.

Interpretation — We successfully used administrative healthcare data from four Canadian provinces to create identical cohorts with commonly defined indicators. This work is an important step toward maturing the field of eol care in Canada. Future work in this arena would be facilitated by national-level data-sharing arrangements.



Barbera L, Seow H, Sutradhar R, Chu A, Burge F, Fassbender K, McGrail K, Lawson B, Liu Y, Pataky R, Potapov A. Curr Oncol. 2015; 22(5):341-55.

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