Background: Limited data are available on how the timing and setting of palliative care (PC) referral can affect end-of-life care. In this retrospective cohort study, the authors examined how the timing and setting of PC referral were associated with the quality of end-of-life care.
Methods: All adult patients residing in the Houston area who died of advanced cancer between September 1, 2009 and February 28, 2010 and had a PC consultation were included. Data were retrieved on PC referral and quality of end-of-life care indicators.
Results: Among 366 decedents, 120 (33%) had an early PC referral (>3 months before death), and 169 (46%) were first seen as outpatients. Earlier PC referral was associated with fewer emergency room visits (39% vs 68%; P<.001), fewer hospitalizations (48% vs 81%; P<.003), and fewer hospital deaths (17% vs 31%; P5.004) in the last 30 days of life. Similarly, outpatient PC referral was associated with fewer emergency room visits (48% vs 68%; P<.001), fewer hospital admissions (52% vs 86%; P<.001), fewer hospital deaths (18% vs 34%; P5.001), and fewer intensive care unit admissions (4% vs 14%; P5.001). In multivariate analysis, outpatient PC referral (odds ratio [OR], 0.42; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.28-0.66; P<.001) was independently associated with less aggressive end-of-life care. Men (OR, 1.63; 95% CI, 1.06-2.50; P5.03) and hematologic malignancies (OR, 2.57; 95% CI, 1.18-5.59; P5.02) were associated with more aggressive end-of-life care.
Conclusions: Patients who were referred to outpatient PC had improved end-of-life care compared with those who received inpatient PC. The current findings support the need to increase the availability of PC clinics and to streamline the process of early referral.