Objective: The objective of this study was to evaluate the quality of the dying experience in a cohort of head and neck cancer patients by a retrospective analysis of potential indicators of care.
Study design: The study design included retrospective case note analysis of previously evaluated factors considered important in the care of terminally ill patients and validated indicators of care obtainable from administrative data. The documented factors were analyzed to indicate specific elements of the quality of death and dying experience.
Results: Pain was a common symptom (84%) and was managed successfully in all patients, with 93% receiving opioids. Management of other symptoms, except neuropsychological problems, were satisfactory. Sixty-three percent of patients died in hospital and only 22% had a relative present at the time of death. Resuscitation status was documented in only 65% of the notes, though none were admitted to the intensive care unit or underwent resuscitation. Fifty-three percent of patients were admitted as an emergency in the last month of life and bleeding was the most common cause of admission.
Conclusion: Valuable information can be obtained from a focused retrospective analysis. The indicators evaluated suggest that biomedical aspects of care are being recognized and addressed, although there is room for improvement. Psychosocial and spiritual aspects of care were not documented and must be taken into account to assess the "complete quality of dying" experience.