BACKGROUND: Accessible indicators of aggressiveness of care at the end-of-life are useful to monitor implementation of early integrated palliative care practice. To determine the intensity of end-of-life care from exhaustive data combining administrative databases and hospital clinical records, to evaluate its variability across hospital facilities and associations with timely introduction of palliative care (PC).
METHODS: For this study designed as a decedent series nested in multicentre cohort of advanced cancer patients, we selected 997 decedents from a cohort of patients hospitalised in 2009-2010, with a diagnosis of metastatic cancer in 3 academic medical centres and 2 comprehensive cancer centres in the Paris area. Hospital data was combined with nationwide mortality databases. Complete data were collected and checked from clinical records, including first referral to PC, chemotherapy within 14 days of death, >=1 intensive care unit (ICU) admission, >=2 emergency department visits (ED), and >= 2 hospitalizations, all within 30 days of death.
RESULTS: Overall (min-max) indicator values as reported by facility providing care rather than the place of death, were: 16% (8-25%) patients received chemotherapy within 14 days of death, 16% (6-32%) had >=2 admissions to acute care, 6% (0-15%) had >=2 emergency visits and 18% (4-35%) had >=1 intensive care unit admission(s). Only 53% of these patients met the PC team, and the median (min-max) time between the first intervention of the PC team and death was 41 (17-112) days. The introduction of PC > 30 days before death was independently associated with lower intensity of care.
CONCLUSIONS: Aggressiveness of end-of-life cancer care is highly variable across centres. This validates the use of indicators to monitor integrated PC in oncology. Disseminating a quality audit-feedback cycle should contribute to a shared view of appropriate end-of-life care objectives, and foster action for improvement among care providers.