Background: Little population-level information exists about the delivery of palliative care across multiple health sectors, important in providing a complete picture of current care and gaps in care.
Aim: Provide a population perspective on end-of-life palliative care delivery across health sectors.
Design: Retrospective population-level cohort study, describing palliative care in the last year of life using linked health administrative databases.
Setting/participants: All decedents in Ontario, Canada, from 1 April 2010 to 31 March 2012 ( n = 177,817).
Results: Across all health sectors, about half (51.9%) of all decedents received at least one record of palliative care in the last year of life. Being female, middle-aged, living in wealthier and urban neighborhoods, having cancer, and less multi-morbidity were all associated with higher odds of palliative care receipt. Among 92,276 decedents receiving palliative care, 84.9% received care in acute care hospitals. Among recipients, 35 mean days of palliative care were delivered. About half (49.1%) of all palliative care days were delivered in the last 2 months of life, and half (50.1%) had palliative care initiated in this period. Only about one-fifth of all decedents (19.3%) received end-of-life care through publicly funded home care. Less than 10% of decedents had a record of a palliative care home visit from a physician.
Conclusion: We describe methods to capture palliative care using administrative data. Despite an estimate of overall reach (51.9%) that is higher than previous estimates, we have shown that palliative care is infrequently delivered particularly in community settings and to non-cancer patients and occurs close to death.
Keywords: Palliative care; cancer; end-of-life care; home care services; house calls; palliative medicine.