Background: A number of palliative care delivery models have been proposed to address the structural and process gaps in this care. However, the specific elements required to form competent systems are often vaguely described.
Aim: The purpose of this study was to explore whether a set of modifiable health system factors could be identified that are associated with population palliative care outcomes, including less acute care use and more home deaths.
Design: A comparative case study evaluation was conducted of 'palliative care' in four health regions in Ontario, Canada. Regions were selected as exemplars of high and low acute care utilization patterns, representing both urban and rural settings. A theory-based approach to data collection was taken using the System Competency Model, comprised of structural features known to be essential indicators of palliative care system performance. Key informants in each region completed study instruments. Data were summarized using qualitative techniques and an exploratory factor pattern analysis was completed.
Results: 43 participants (10+ from each region) were recruited, representing clinical and administrative perspectives. Pattern analysis revealed six factors that discriminated between regions: overall palliative care planning and needs assessment; a common chart; standardized patient assessments; 24/7 palliative care team access; advanced practice nursing presence; and designated roles for the provision of palliative care services.
Conclusions: The four palliative care regional 'systems' examined using our model were found to be in different stages of development. This research further informs health system planners on important features to incorporate into evolving palliative care systems.