Background: We examined the delivery of physician palliative care (PC) services and its association with aggressive end-of-life care (EOLC) in patients with gastrointestinal (GI) cancer in Ontario, Canada.
Methods: All patients with primary cause of death from esophageal, gastric, colon, and anorectal cancer from January 2003 to December 2013 were identified. PC services within 2 years of death were classified: (1) any PC; (2) timing of first PC (≤ 7, 8-90, 91-180, and 181-730 days before death); and (3) intensity of PC measured by number of days used (1st-25th, 26th-50th, 51st-75th, and 76th-100th percentiles). Aggressive EOLC was defined as any of the following: chemotherapy, emergency department visits, hospital or intensive care unit (ICU) admissions (all ≤ 30 days of death), and death in hospital and in the ICU; these were combined as a composite outcome (any aggressive EOLC).
Results: The cohort included 34,630 patients, of whom 74% had at least one PC service. Timing of the first PC service varied: ≤ 7 (12%), 8-90 (42%), 91-180 (16%), and 181-730 (30%) days before death. Compared with patients not receiving PC, any PC was associated with a reduction in any aggressive EOLC (risk ratio [RR] 0.75, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.74-0.76); this association was similar regardless of timing of the first PC service. The most dramatic reduction in aggressive EOLC occurred in patients who received the greatest number of days of PC (RR 0.65, 95% CI 0.63-0.67).
Conclusions: The majority of patients received PC within 2 years of death. A larger number of days of PC was associated with a greater reduction in aggressive EOLC.