Quality indicators for palliative care: a systematic review

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2009 Jul;38(1):145-156. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2008.07.008.


Research has demonstrated a greater understanding of the needs of terminally ill patients and their families, but it also has been found that the palliative care is not optimal. Because of a lack of quality indicators in palliative care, the quality of the care is often not assessed. The aim of this systematic review was to give an overview of published quality indicators for palliative care in all patient groups and settings, to determine whether these quality indicators cover all domains of palliative care, to describe the different types of quality indicators, and to determine the methodological characteristics of the quality indicators. Relevant studies were identified by searching computerized databases up to December 2007. Publications describing the development process or characteristics of quality indicators for palliative care were selected by two reviewers independently. An additional selection criterion was that numerators and denominators were either defined or could be deduced from the descriptions. The data extraction involved the general description and type of the quality indicator, target population, and applicable setting. We identified 650 publications, of which 16 met the inclusion criteria. These publications described eight sets of quality indicators. These sets contained 142 overlapping quality indicators, covering all but one domain (cultural aspects) of palliative care. Most quality indicators referred to the outcomes or processes of palliative care. The methodological characteristics of the quality indicators varied considerably. We conclude that a substantial number of quality indicators for palliative care are available, but most have not been described in detail. More detailed methodological specifications are needed to accurately monitor the quality of palliative care.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Health Status Indicators*
  • Humans
  • Pain / diagnosis*
  • Pain / epidemiology*
  • Palliative Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care / methods*
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Quality Indicators, Health Care / statistics & numerical data*