Specialised Paediatric PAlliativE CaRe: Assessing family, healthcare professionals and health system outcomes in a multi-site context of various care settings: SPhAERA study protocol

BMC Palliat Care. 2022 Nov 2;21(1):188. doi: 10.1186/s12904-022-01089-x.


Background: The number of children and adolescents living with life-limiting conditions and potentially in need for specialised paediatric palliative care (SPPC) is rising. Ideally, a specialised multiprofessional team responds to the complex healthcare needs of children and their families. The questions of, how SPPC is beneficial, for whom, and under what circumstances, remain largely unanswered in the current literature. This study's overall target is to evaluate the effectiveness of a SPPC programme in Switzerland with respect to its potential to improve patient-, family-, health professional-, and healthcare-related outcomes.

Methods: This comparative effectiveness study applies a quasi-experimental design exploring the effectiveness of SPPC as a complex intervention at one treatment site in comparison with routine care provided in a generalised PPC environment at three comparison sites. As the key goal of palliative care, quality of life - assessed at the level of the patient-, the family- and the healthcare professional - will be the main outcome of this comparative effectiveness research. Other clinical, service, and economic outcomes will include patient symptom severity and distress, parental grief processes, healthcare resource utilisation and costs, direct and indirect health-related expenditure, place of death, and introduction of SPPC. Data will be mainly collected through questionnaire surveys and chart analysis.

Discussion: The need for SPPC has been demonstrated through numerous epidemiological and observational studies. However, in a healthcare environment focused on curative treatment and struggling with limited resources, the lack of evidence contributes to a lack of acceptance and financing of SPPC which is a major barrier against its sustainability. This study will contribute to current knowledge by reporting individual and child level outcomes at the family level and by collecting detailed contextual information on healthcare provision. We hope that the results of this study can help guiding the expansion and sustainability of SPPC and improve the quality of care for children with life-limiting conditions and their families internationally.

Trial registration: Registered prospectively on ClinicalTrials.gov on January 22, 2020. NCT04236180 PROTOCOL VERSION: Amendment 2, March 01, 2021.

Keywords: Clinical trials; Complex intervention; Effectiveness research; Palliative care; Pediatrics; Study protocol.

Publication types

  • Clinical Study
  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Hospice and Palliative Care Nursing*
  • Humans
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Palliative Care* / methods
  • Quality of Life

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT04236180