Palliative Care for Patients with End-Stage Liver Disease on the Liver Transplant Waiting List: An International Systematic Review

Dig Dis Sci. 2021 Dec;66(12):4072-4089. doi: 10.1007/s10620-020-06779-1. Epub 2021 Jan 12.


People with end-stage liver disease on the liver transplant waiting list have high symptom burden, which can successfully be addressed by specialist palliative care. Potential tensions with the perceived curative nature of liver transplant make delivering specialist palliative care challenging. This systematic review seeks to establish what is known on the impact of specialist palliative care for patients on liver transplant waiting lists, healthcare professionals' perspectives of providing specialist palliative care for this population, and uptake of advance care planning (ACP). Medline, Embase, and CINAHL were searched to May 5, 2020. Qualitative and quantitative findings were grouped together according to main relevant themes. Eight studies of mixed quality and mainly quantitative, were identified. Findings suggest early palliative care intervention improve patients' symptoms and prompt ACP conversations, but patients on the waiting list receive limited palliative care input. Liver physicians' lack of clarity on referral criteria and liver transplant patients' concerns of being abandoned, were reasons for reluctance to refer to specialist palliative care. They felt referral to specialist palliative care is appropriate only for patients receiving hospice or end of life care. Uptake and understanding of ACP and goals of care designation by patients is poor. This review found evidence of benefit of specialist palliative care for patients on liver transplant waiting lists, but found in a limited understanding of their role. Evidence is limited to studies from North America. Future research is needed to understand better how palliative care could be provided into this clinical environment.

Keywords: Advance care plans; Cirrhosis; Liver transplantation; Palliative care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Advance Care Planning*
  • Humans
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / diagnosis
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / physiopathology
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / psychology
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / therapy*
  • Liver Transplantation*
  • Palliative Care*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Waiting Lists*