What justifies a hospital admission at the end of life? A focus group study on perspectives of family physicians and nurses

Palliat Med. 2014 Jul;28(7):941-948. doi: 10.1177/0269216314522317. Epub 2014 Feb 17.


Background: Despite a majority preferring not to die in hospital and health policies aimed at increasing home death, the proportion of hospital deaths remains high. Gaining insight into professional caregiver perspectives about what justifies them could be helpful in understanding the persistently high rates of such hospital admissions and hospital deaths.

Aim: To explore the perspectives of nurses from nursing homes, home care and hospitals, and family physicians concerning hospital admissions at the end of life and the circumstances in which they consider them to be justified.

Design: Focus groups, transcribed verbatim and analysed using a constant comparative approach.

Setting/participants: Five focus groups were held with family physicians (n = 39), two focus groups (n = 16) with nurses from different care settings (nursing home, home care and hospital) and one with nursing home nurses (n = 7) in Belgium.

Results: Participants indicated that although they considered death at home or in the nursing home of residence the most preferable outcome, there are a number of scenarios that they consider to justify a hospital admission at the end of life: when the patient prefers a hospital admission, when the caring capacity of the care setting is considered to be inadequate and when one of a number of acute medical situations occurs.

Conclusion: A number of situations have been identified in which nurses and family physicians consider a hospital admission to be justified. Adequate advance care planning and improved psychosocial support to both family and professional caregivers could reduce the number of hospital deaths.

Keywords: Hospitalisation; focus groups; palliative care; patient admission; patient transfer; terminal care.