Background: Transitions between care settings may be related to poor quality in end-of-life care. Yet there is a lack of cross-national population-based data on transitions at the end of life.
Method: International mortality follow-back study with data collection in Belgium, Netherlands, Italy and Spain (2009-11) via existing representative epidemiological surveillance networks of general practitioners (GPs). All general practitioners reported weekly, on a standardized registration form, every deceased patient (≥18 years) in their practice and identified those who died 'non-suddenly'.
Results: Among 4791 non-sudden deaths in Belgium, Netherlands, Italy and Spain, 59%, 55%, 60% and 58%, respectively, were transferred between care settings at least once in the final 3 months of life (10%, 8%, 10% and 13% in final 3 days of life); 10%, 5%, 8% and 12% were transferred three times or more (P < 0.001 in multivariate analyses adjusting for country differences in age, sex, cause of death, presence of dementia). In all countries, transitions were more frequent among patients residing at home (61-73%) than among patients residing in a care home (33-40%). Three months before death 5-7% of patients were in hospital, and this rose to 27-39% on the day of death. Patient wishes were cited as the reason for the last transition before death in 27%, 39%, 9% and 6% of cases in Belgium, Netherlands, Italy and Spain, respectively (P < 0.001).
Conclusion: End-of-life transitions between health care settings are common across EU countries, in particular late hospitalizations for people residing at home. Frequency, type and reasons for terminal hospitalizations vary between countries.
© The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the European Public Health Association. All rights reserved.