Background: Of deaths in high-income countries, 75% are caused by progressive advanced chronic conditions. Palliative care needs to be extended from terminal cancer to these patients. However, direct measurement of the prevalence of people in need of palliative care in the population has not been attempted.
Aim: Determine, by direct measurement, the prevalence of people in need of palliative care among advanced chronically ill patients in a whole geographic population.
Design: Cross-sectional, population-based study.
Main outcome measure: prevalence of advanced chronically ill patients in need of palliative care according to the NECPAL CCOMS-ICO(©) tool. NECPAL+ patients were considered as in need of palliative care.
Setting/participants: County of Osona, Catalonia, Spain (156,807 inhabitants, 21.4% > 65 years). Three randomly selected primary care centres (51,595 inhabitants, 32.9% of County's population) and one district general hospital, one social-health centre and four nursing homes serving the patients. Subjects were all patients attending participating settings between November 2010 and October 2011.
Results: A total of 785 patients (1.5% of study population) were NECPAL+: mean age = 81.4 years; 61.4% female. Main disease/condition: 31.3% advanced frailty, 23.4% dementia, 12.9% cancer (ratio of cancer/non-cancer = 1/7), 66.8% living at home and 19.7% in nursing home; only 15.5% previously identified as requiring palliative care; general clinical indicators of severity and progression present in 94% of cases.
Conclusions: Direct measurement of prevalence of palliative care needs on a population basis is feasible. Early identification and prevalence determination of these patients is likely to be the cornerstone of palliative care public health policies.
Keywords: Palliative care; chronic disease; frail elderly; health planning; prevalence; public health.