Identification of hospital patients in need of palliative care – a predictive score

Meffert, C. et al. BMC Palliative Care. Published online: 22 February 2016

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Background: Palliative care was initially developed for patients with advanced cancer. Over the past years, however, palliative care has broadened its focus from terminal cancer patients to patients with other serious, life-limiting illnesses. Nevertheless, the identification of palliative care needs (PCNs) among hospital patients remains an insufficiently investigated topic of research. The aim of our study was to describe the characteristics of hospital patients with palliative care needs and to develop a score for their identification.

Methods: We conducted an epidemiological study. Data were collected prospectively from inpatients at the University Medical Center Freiburg, Germany. For each patient discharged from a hospital ward, the treating physician had to report whether the patient had PCNs or not. The response rate was 96 %, and data from 39,849 patients could be analyzed. A binary logistic regression analysis was performed in order to identify risk factors for developing PCNs and to develop a predictive score for the identification of patients with PCNs upon their admission to the hospital. In order to validate the risk prediction model, we used a bootstrap analysis.

Results: During the study period, 6.9 % (2757) of all patients had palliative care needs. Only 56 of them (2 %) received palliative treatment. Binary logistic regression analysis showed that older patients without relatives who suffered from metastatic cancer and/or liver cirrhosis had the highest risk of developing palliative care needs (PCN-score; sensitivity: 0.815; specificity: 0.640).

Conclusions: Given the aging population and associated increase in the number of patients requiring palliative care, it is crucial to detect palliative care needs in hospital patients with both cancerous and non-cancerous life-limiting diseases. Our predictive score contributes to the identification of palliative care needs in patients with life-limiting diseases, which allows physicians to take the appropriate therapeutic steps.

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