Palliative care service use by older people: Time trends from a mortality follow-back study between 2005 and 2014

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Background:The need for increased use and timely initiation of palliative care for all people, not just those who die with cancer, has been advocated worldwide over the past decade.Aim:To investigate whether there has been a time trend in the use of palliative care services and the timing of their initiation for older people.Design:Mortality follow-back survey among general practitioners in a nationally representative Sentinel Network in 2005–2010, 2013 and 2014 in Belgium.Setting/participants:Of all their patients who died non-suddenly aged 65+ years, general practitioners reported sociodemographic and clinical data, use of any of the palliative care services available in Belgium and when the first of these services was initiated.Results:General practitioners identified 5344 deaths. Overall, palliative care service use increased from 39% in 2005 to 63% in 2014 (p < 0.001). The use of a reference person for palliative care in a care home increased from 12% to 26% (p < 0.001) and of a palliative homecare team from 14% to 17.5% (p < 0.01), but hospital-based palliative care services did not increase. Controlling for sociodemographic characteristics, no differences were obtained over time in the proportion of cancer/non-cancer patients for whom they provided care. The timing of initiation of palliative care services remained unchanged at a median of 15 days before death.Conclusion:Palliative care service use has increased mostly in care homes, possibly as a result of policy changes, while hospital-based palliative care services lag behind. Contrary to recommendations, access for non-cancer patients may remain difficult and palliative care is often initiated late in the disease trajectory.

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