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The impact of routine Edmonton symptom assessment system use on receiving palliative care services: results of a population-based retrospective-matched cohort analysis


Background — In 2007, Cancer Care Ontario began standardised symptom assessment as part of routine care using the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (ESAS).

Aim — The purpose of this study was to evaluate the impact of ESAS on receipt of palliative care when compared with a matched group of unexposed patients.

Design — A retrospective-matched cohort study examined the impact of ESAS screening on initiation of palliative care services provided by physicians or homecare nurses. The study included adult patients diagnosed with cancer between 2007 and 2015. Exposure was defined as completing ≥1 ESAS during the study period. Using 4 hard and 14 propensity score-matched variables, patients with cancer exposed to ESAS were matched 1:1 to those who were not. Matched patients were followed from first ESAS until initiation of palliative care, death or end of study.

Results — The final cohort consisted of 204 688 matched patients with no prior palliative care consult. The pairs were well matched. The cumulative incidence of receiving palliative care within the first 5 years was higher among those exposed to ESAS compared with those who were not (27.9% (95% CI: 27.5% to 28.2%) versus 27.9% (95% CI: 27.5% to 28.2%)), when death is considered as a competing event. In the adjusted cause-specific Cox proportional hazards model, ESAS assessment was associated with a 6% increase in palliative care services (HR: 1.06, 95% CI: 1.04 to 1.08).

Conclusion — We have demonstrated that patients exposed to ESAS were more likely to receive palliative care services compared with patients who were not exposed. This observation provides real-world data of the impact of routine assessment with a patient-reported outcome.



Barbera L, Sutradhar R, Earle CC, Howell D, Mittmann N, Li Q, Thiruchelvam D, Seow H. BMJ Support Palliat Care. 2023; 13(e1):e144-9. Epub 2020 Sep 17.

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