Context: Although timely referral to palliative care services can help improve quality of life by minimizing patient and family suffering during a life-threatening illness, it remains unclear whether patients in Korea who suffer from advanced cancer are referred to palliative care services in a timely manner.
Objectives: We aimed to investigate the timeliness of patient referral to palliative care services in Korea by examining the duration of survival after enrollment and identify the factors contributing to earlier or later referral.
Methods: Patient- and episode-level data were collected from 3867 terminal cancer patients, who were registered in 34 inpatient palliative care services designated by the Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Family Affairs. Cox proportional hazard models were used to determine factors associated with the duration of survival after enrollment in palliative care services.
Results: The median duration of survival after enrollment in palliative care services was 18 days. Male sex, liver cancer diagnosis, poor performance status, being covered by National Health Insurance, and being married were significantly associated with shorter duration of survival after enrollment, whereas a prostate cancer diagnosis was associated with longer survival.
Conclusion: Korean terminal cancer patients are referred to palliative care very late, and the timing appears to be influenced by some socioeconomic and medical factors. Interventions, such as physician education and establishing palliative care teams, are required to promote earlier referrals in Korea.
Copyright © 2011 U.S. Cancer Pain Relief Committee. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.