Quality indicators for palliative care: update of a systematic review

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2013 Oct;46(4):556-72. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2012.09.013. Epub 2013 Jun 26.


Context: In 2007, a systematic review revealed a number of quality indicators referring mostly to palliative care outcomes and processes. Psychosocial and spiritual aspects were scarcely represented. Most publications lacked a detailed description of the development process. With many initiatives and further developments expected, an update is needed.

Objectives: This update gives an overview of the published quality indicators for palliative care and identifies any new developments since 2007 regarding the number and type of indicators developed and the methodology applied.

Methods: The same literature search as in the 2007 review was used to identify relevant publications up to October 2011. Publications describing development processes or characteristics of quality indicators for palliative care were selected by two reviewers independently.

Results: The literature search resulted in 435 hits in addition to the 650 hits found in the previous review. Thirteen new publications were selected in addition to the 16 publications selected earlier, describing 17 sets of quality indicators containing 326 indicators. These cover all domains of palliative care as defined by the U.S. National Consensus Project. Most indicators refer to care processes or outcomes. The extent to which methodological characteristics are described varies widely.

Conclusion: Recent developments in measuring quality of palliative care using quality indicators are mainly quantitative in nature, with a substantial number of new indicators being found. However, the quality of the development process varies considerably between sets. More consistent and detailed methodological descriptions are needed for the further development of these indicators and improved quality measurement of palliative care.

Keywords: Palliative care; quality indicators; quality of care.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

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