Characteristics, Symptom Management, and Outcomes of 101 Patients With COVID-19 Referred for Hospital Palliative Care

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2020 Jul;60(1):e77-e81. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2020.04.015. Epub 2020 Apr 20.


Hospital palliative care is an essential part of the COVID-19 response but data are lacking. We identified symptom burden, management, response to treatment, and outcomes for a case series of 101 inpatients with confirmed COVID-19 referred to hospital palliative care. Patients (64 men, median [interquartile range {IQR}] age 82 [72-89] years, Elixhauser Comorbidity Index 6 [2-10], Australian-modified Karnofsky Performance Status 20 [10-20]) were most frequently referred for end-of-life care or symptom control. Median [IQR] days from hospital admission to referral was 4 [1-12] days. Most prevalent symptoms (n) were breathlessness (67), agitation (43), drowsiness (36), pain (23), and delirium (24). Fifty-eight patients were prescribed a subcutaneous infusion. Frequently used medicines (median [range] dose/24 hours) were opioids (morphine, 10 [5-30] mg; fentanyl, 100 [100-200] mcg; alfentanil, 500 [150-1000] mcg) and midazolam (10 [5-20] mg). Infusions were assessed as at least partially effective for 40/58 patients, while 13 patients died before review. Patients spent a median [IQR] of 2 [1-4] days under the palliative care team, who made 3 [2-5] contacts across patient, family, and clinicians. At March 30, 2020, 75 patients had died; 13 been discharged back to team, home, or hospice; and 13 continued to receive inpatient palliative care. Palliative care is an essential component to the COVID-19 response, and teams must rapidly adapt with new ways of working. Breathlessness and agitation are common but respond well to opioids and benzodiazepines. Availability of subcutaneous infusion pumps is essential. An international minimum data set for palliative care would accelerate finding answers to new questions as the COVID-19 pandemic develops.

Keywords: COVID-19; coronavirus; end of life; hospice; palliative care; symptom management.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology*
  • Coronavirus Infections / therapy*
  • Disease Management
  • Female
  • Hospice Care
  • Hospitalization*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Palliative Care*
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / therapy*
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Treatment Outcome