Goal of work: To inform future practice, research and policy in specialist palliative day-care by systematically reviewing the evidence for how the structure and process of this form of care relate to outcomes for adults with cancer.
Patients and methods: Medical, nursing and social science computerized databases were searched up until December 2003 for studies of palliative day-care reporting information on service structure, care processes or outcomes including symptom control, quality of life, social and psychological support, and patient and relative satisfaction with care. Qualitative and quantitative studies were assessed for methodological quality and graded, and the findings synthesized into the review.
Main results: Twelve observational studies were found that showed the difficulties of evaluating a service already operating and of recruiting a vulnerable population of patients as they deteriorated. Most services are nurse-led, but varied in the facilities, staff mix, care models, activities and places they offered. Patients attending seemed a selected group of those already receiving palliative care who were mostly white, aged over 60 years and retired, with needs for emotional and social support and pain control. There were insufficient studies to provide conclusive evidence of improved symptom control or health-related quality of life, but all qualitative studies found patients valued the social support and opportunity to take part in activities that day-care provided.
Conclusions: There is evidence for high satisfaction among patients selected into day-care, but not yet sufficient to judge whether this improves symptom control or health-related quality of life. Further research should explore selection and access into care, the most effective models of care, its cost, and potential benefits for relatives and carers. Comparison with models of care for older adults and those with mental illness would also be informative.