Improving hospital-based end of life care processes and outcomes

A systematic review was undertaken to examine the quantity and quality of data-based research aimed at improving the (a) processes and (b) outcomes associated with delivering end-of-life care in hospital settings | BMC Palliative Care


A total of 416 papers met eligibility criteria. The number increased by 13% each year (p < 0.001). Most studies were descriptive (n = 351, 85%), with fewer measurement (n = 17) and intervention studies (n = 48; 10%). Only 18 intervention studies (4%) met EPOC design criteria. Most reported benefits for end-of-life processes including end-of-life discussions and documentation (9/11). Impact on end-of-life outcomes was mixed, with some benefit for psychosocial distress, satisfaction and concordance in care (3/7).

More methodologically robust studies are needed to evaluate the impact of interventions on end-of-life processes, including whether changes in processes translate to improved end-of-life outcomes. Interventions which target both the patient and substitute decision maker in an effort to achieve these changes would be beneficial.

Full reference: Waller, A. et al. (2017) Improving hospital-based end of life care processes and outcomes: a systematic review of research output, quality and effectiveness. BMC Palliative Care. Published: 19 May 2017

People who are dying should be asked about their spiritual beliefs

NICE has published new guidance calling on healthcare professionals to ask adults in the final days of life about their religious or spiritual beliefs.


Cultural preferences and spiritual beliefs should be included in discussions about the care a person, and those close to them, want to receive, says NICE.

Knowing if someone holds a religious belief can be important for providing the care they desire. For example, someone who is Catholic may wish to receive the last prayers and ministrations.

The 2016 End of Life Care Audit reported nearly half of all deaths in England occurred in hospital. Spiritual wishes were only documented for one in 7 people who were able to communicate their desires.

Read the full overview here

Read the full guidance here

How well do we currently care for our dying patients in acute hospitals: the views of the bereaved relatives?

Mayland, C.R. et al. BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care. Published Online: 17 January 2017

Background: The National Care of the Dying Audit—Hospitals (NCDAH) is used as a method to evaluate care for dying patients in England. An additional component to the 2013/2014 audit was the Local Survey of Bereaved Relatives Views using the ‘Care Of the Dying Evaluation’ (CODE) questionnaire.

Conclusions: Adopting a postbereavement survey to NCDAH appears to be feasible, acceptable and a valuable addition. On the whole, the majority of participants reported good or excellent care. A small but significant minority, however, perceived poor quality of patient care with clear and timely communication urgently needed.

Read the full abstract here

Hospital doctors’ understanding of use and withdrawal of the Liverpool Care Pathway

Twigger, S. & Yardley, S.J. Palliative Medicine. Published online:  December 8 2016

B0007006 Doctor

Image source: Marina Caruso – Wellcome Images // CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Background: The Liverpool Care Pathway was used in UK hospitals (late 1990s to July 2014) in an attempt to generate hospice-style high-quality end-of-life care in acute settings. Despite being widely established, there was limited research or contextual evidence regarding this approach or its impact. Growing criticism from the public, media, politicians and healthcare professionals culminated with a critical independent review (July 2013) and subsequent withdrawal of the Liverpool Care Pathway.

Conclusion: Future initiatives in hospital end-of-life care must address doctors’ fears, (in)abilty to tolerate medical uncertainty, communication skills and understanding of the dying phase, in order to provide optimum care in the last days of life.

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Dying in the hospital setting: end-of-life care that patients and their families describe as being important

Virdun, C. et al. Palliative Medicine. Published online: December 8 2016

B0009947 The maze of trees, emotional cancer journey, artwork

Image source: Michele Angelo Petrone – Wellcome Images // CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Background: Despite most expected deaths occurring in hospital, optimal end-of-life care is not available for all in this setting.

Conclusion: Consumer narratives help to provide a clearer direction as to what is important for hospital end-of-life care. Systems are needed to enable optimal end-of-life care, in accordance with consumer priorities, and embedded into routine hospital care.

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Decision-making at the end of life: the effect of establishing the terminal illness situation

Campos-Calderón, C. et al. BMC Palliative Care. Published online: 7 November 2016


Background: Many ‘routine’ interventions performed in hospital rooms have repercussions for the comfort of the patient, and the decision to perform them should depend on whether the patient is identified as in a terminal phase. The aim of this study is to analyse the health interventions performed and decisions made in the last days of life in patients with advanced oncological and non-oncological illness to ascertain whether identifying the patient’s terminal illness situation has any effect on these decisions.

Methods: Retrospective study of the clinical histories of deceased patients in four hospitals in Granada (Spain) in 2010. Clinical histories corresponding to the last three months of the patient’s life were reviewed.

Results: A total of 202 clinical histories were reviewed, 60 % of which were those of non-oncology patients. Opioid prescriptions (58.4 %), palliative sedation (35.1 %) and Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders (34.7 %) were the decisions most often reflected in the histories, and differences in these decisions were found between patients registered as terminal and those who were not registered as terminal. The most frequent interventions in the final 14 days and 48 h were parenteral hydration (96–83 %), peripheral venous catheter (90.1–82 %) and oxygen therapy (81.2–70.5 %). There were statistically significant differences between the patients who were registered as terminal and those not registered as terminal in the number of interventions applied in the final 14 days and 48 h (p = 0.01–p = 0.00) and in many of the described treatments.

Conclusion: The recognition of a patient’s terminal status in the clinical history conditions the decisions that are made and is generally associated with a lower number of interventions.

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Palliative care in the trauma ICU

O’Connell, K. & Maier, R. Current Opinion in Critical Care. Published online: September 21 2016

Purpose of review: The benefits of palliative care for critically ill patients are well recognized, yet acceptance into surgical culture is lagging. With the increasing proportion of geriatric trauma patients, integration of palliative medicine within daily intensive care services to facilitate goal-concordant care is imperative.

Recent findings: Misconceptions of palliative medicine as it applies to trauma patients linger among trauma surgeons and many continue to practice without routine consultation of a palliative care service. Aggressive end-of-life care does not correlate with an improved family perception of medical care received near death. Additionally, elderly patients near the end of life often prefer palliative treatments over life-extending therapy, and their treatment preferences are often not achieved. A new geriatric-specific prognosis calculator estimates the risk of mortality after trauma, which is useful in starting goals of care discussions with older patients and their families.

Summary: Shifting our quality focus from 30-day mortality rates to measurements of symptom control and achievement of patient treatment preferences will prioritize patient beneficence and autonomy. Ownership of surgical palliative care as a service provided by acute care surgeons will ensure that our patients with incurable injury and illness will receive optimal patient-centered care.

Read the abstract here