Organizing palliative care for rural populations: a systematic review of the evidence

Fam Pract. 2003 Jun;20(3):304-10. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmg312.


Background: Palliative care services have developed mostly in urban areas. Rural areas typically are characterized by the lack of well-organized services, with primary care professionals, specifically GPs and community nurses, having to undertake most of the palliative care. Little is known, however, either of their views or of how best to organize palliative care in rural areas.

Objective: The aim of this study was to conduct a systematic literature review of studies that have examined the organization of rural palliative care and the views of professionals in rural areas.

Method: Six electronic databases were searched for published studies between 1991 and 2001. Articles had to match against (i). MeSH or keyword terms relating to palliative, terminal or end of life care; and (ii). MeSH or keyword terms relating to rural. A data extraction framework was designed and used systematically by two reviewers to consider research question and method, sample characteristics, selection and size, study quality, summary results and implications.

Results: Twenty-six studies were identified. These were mostly questionnaire surveys and reports, and three qualitative studies. No randomized controlled studies or cohort studies were identified. Education and strategic issues were dominant research questions. Both the sample numbers and response rates in the surveys were variable. The qualitative studies had methodological strengths and elicited important views from nurses, carers and families. GPs were, however, unrepresented. Whilst the role of primary care emerged as an important theme, primary care professionals reported difficulties in obtaining education and training. There were also reported problems in symptom control and in the management of emotional issues such as bereavement counselling. Difficulties were also described in accessing specialist services such as hospices, and families were reported as having problems in accessing information. Developments in information technology such as telemedicine were seen as possible solutions to some of the problems.

Conclusions: There is little published work on this topic. Most of the work identifies problems in the delivery of palliative care in rural areas. Whilst primary care professionals are seen as having a key role, there is a need to discover both their views and their needs in this field.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Caregivers / organization & administration
  • Health Services Accessibility / organization & administration
  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations
  • Palliative Care / organization & administration*
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration
  • Research Design
  • Rural Health Services / organization & administration*