Effectiveness of palliative care services: A population-based study of end-of-life care for cancer patients

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Multiple studies demonstrate substantial utilization of acute hospital care and, potentially excessive, intensive medical and surgical treatments at the end-of-life.


To evaluate the relationship between the use of home and facility-based hospice palliative care for patients dying with cancer and service utilization at the end of life.


Retrospective, population-level study using administrative databases. The effect of palliative care was analyzed between coarsened exact matched cohorts and evaluated through a conditional logistic regression model.


The study was conducted on the cohort of 34,357 patients, resident in Emilia-Romagna Region, Italy, admitted to hospital with a diagnosis of metastatic or poor-prognosis cancer during the 6 months before death between January 2013 and December 2015.


Patients who received palliative care experienced significantly lower rates of all indicators of aggressive care such as hospital admission (odds ratio (OR) = 0.05, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.04–0.06), emergency department visits (OR = 0.23, 95% CI: 0.21–0.25), intensive care unit stays (OR = 0.29, 95% CI: 0.26–0.32), major operating room procedures (OR = 0.22, 95% CI: 0.21–0.24), and lower in-hospital death (OR = 0.11, 95% CI: 0.10–0.11). This cohort had significantly higher rates of opiate prescriptions (OR = 1.27, 95% CI: 1.21–1.33) (p < 0.01 for all comparisons).


Use of palliative care at the end of life for cancer patients is associated with a reduction of the use of high-cost, intensive services. Future research is necessary to evaluate the impact of increasing use of palliative care services on other health outcomes. Administrative databases linked at the patient level are a useful data source for assessment of care at the end of life.

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