Objective: The aim of this study was to illustrate the characteristics of patients with palliative care (PC) needs, early identified by general practitioners (GPs), and to analyze their care process in home PC services.
Background: Early identification and service integration are key components to providing quality palliative care (PC) services ensuring the best possible service for patients and their families. However, in Italy, PC is often provided only in the last phase of life and for oncological patients, with a fragmented service.
Methods: Multicenter prospective observational study, lasting in total 18 months, implemented in a sample of Italian Home Palliative Care Units (HPCUs), enrolling and monitoring patients with limited life expectancy, early identified by 94 GPs. The study began on March 1, 2014 and ended on August 31, 2015.
Results: Nine hundred thirty-seven patients, out of a total pool of 139,071, were identified by GPs as having a low life expectancy and PC needs. Of these, 556 (59.3%) were nononcological patients. The GPs sent 433 patients to the HPCUs for multidimensional assessment, and 328 (75.8%) were placed in the care of both settings (basic or specialist). For all patients included in the study, both oncological and nononcological patients, there was a high rate of death at home, around 70%.
Discussion: This study highlights how a model based on early identification, multidimensional evaluation, and integration of services can promote adequate PC, also for noncancer patients, with a population-based approach.
Keywords: early identification; integration; palliative care; public health approach.