Background: Hospice care supports patients and their families physically and emotionally through the dying phase. In many countries a substantial portion of specialised end-of-life care is provided through hospices. Such care has developed outside of general healthcare and is commonly provided in a patient's home or in dedicated facilities. Hospice provision may need to increase in the future due to an ageing population with a greater need for access to end-of-life care.
Objectives: In this systematic review we sought to identify the current evidence on (1) the effectiveness, including cost-effectiveness, of hospices, and hospice care in a patient's home and in nursing homes and (2) the experiences of those who use and of those who provide such services.
Methods: We included quantitative and qualitative studies on hospice care that was provided in a patient's home, nursing home or hospice. We did not include studies on end-of-life care that was provided as part of general healthcare provision, such as by general practitioners in primary care, community nurses or within general hospitals. For quantitative evaluations we included only those that compared hospice care with usual generalist healthcare. The databases CINAHL, MEDLINE, EMBASE, and The Cochrane Library were searched from 2003 to 2009. Evidence was assessed for quality and data extractions double-checked. For quantitative studies we present the outcome data comparing hospice versus usual care. For qualitative evaluations we organise findings thematically.
Findings: Eighteen comparative evaluations and four thematic papers were identified. Quantitative evidence, mostly of limited quality in design, showed that hospice care at home reduced general health care use and increased family and patient satisfaction with care. Main themes in the qualitative literature revealed that home hospice services support families to sustain patient care at home and hospice day care services generate for the patient a renewed sense of meaning and purpose.
Conclusions: Although studies had methodological limitations, in this review we found much evidence to support the benefits of hospice care. There were limited evaluations found on the impact of hospice care on psychological well-being, such as symptoms of depression, and on inpatient hospice care and non-hospital related costs.
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