Background: Early referral of cancer patients for palliative care significantly improves the quality of life. It is not clear which patients can benefit from an early referral, and when the referral should occur. A Delphi Panel study proposed 11 major criteria for an outpatient palliative care referral.
Objective: To operationalize major Delphi criteria in a cohort of lung cancer patients, using a prospective approach, by linking health administrative data.
Design: Population-based observational cohort study.
Setting/Subjects: The study population comprised 38,851 cases of lung cancer in the Ontario Cancer Registry, diagnosed from January 1, 2012, to December 31, 2016.
Measurements: We operationalized 6 of the 11 major criteria (4 diagnosis or prognosis based and 2 symptom based). Patients were considered eligible (index event) for palliative care if they qualified for any criterion. Among eligible patients, we identified those who received palliative care.
Results: Twenty-eight thousand one hundred sixty-four patients were eligible for palliative care by qualifying for either the diagnosis- or prognosis-based criteria (n = 21,036, 76.5%), or for symptom-based criteria (n = 7128, 23.5%). A total of 23,199 (82.4%) patients received palliative care. The median time from palliative care eligibility to the receipt of first palliative care or death or maximum study follow-up was 56 days (range = 17–348).
Conclusions: We operationalized six major criteria that identified the majority of lung cancer patients who were eligible for palliative care. Most eligible patients received the palliative care before death. Future research is warranted to test these criteria in other cancer populations.