Unwelcome memento mori or best clinical practice? Community end of life anticipatory medication prescribing practice: A mixed methods observational study

Palliat Med. 2022 Jan;36(1):95-104. doi: 10.1177/02692163211043382. Epub 2021 Sep 8.


Background: Anticipatory medications are injectable drugs prescribed ahead of possible need for administration if distressing symptoms arise in the final days of life. Little is known about how they are prescribed in primary care.

Aim: To investigate the frequency, timing and recorded circumstances of anticipatory medications prescribing for patients living at home and in residential care.

Design: Retrospective mixed methods observational study using General Practitioner and community nursing clinical records.

Setting/participants: 329 deceased adult patients registered with Eleven General Practitioner practices and two associated community nursing services in two English counties (30 most recent deaths per practice). Patients died from any cause except trauma, sudden death or suicide, between 4 March 2017 and 25 September 2019.

Results: Anticipatory medications were prescribed for 167/329 (50.8%) of the deceased patients, between 0 and 1212 days before death (median 17 days). The likelihood of prescribing was significantly higher for patients with a recorded preferred place of death (odds ratio [OR] 34; 95% CI 15-77; p < 0.001) and specialist palliative care involvement (OR 7; 95% CI 3-19; p < 0.001). For 66.5% of patients (111/167) anticipatory medications were recorded as being prescribed as part of a single end-of-life planning intervention.

Conclusion: The variability in the timing of prescriptions highlights the challenges in diagnosing the end-of-life phase and the potential risks of prescribing far in advance of possible need. Patient and family views and experiences of anticipatory medication care, and their preferences for involvement in prescribing decision-making, warrant urgent investigation.

Keywords: Anticipatory prescribing; anticipatory medications; community nursing; end of life care; general practice; home palliative care; mixed methods; palliative care; palliative medicine kit; terminal care.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Death
  • Drug Prescriptions
  • General Practitioners*
  • Humans
  • Palliative Care / methods
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Terminal Care* / methods