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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

End-of-life hospital referrals by out-of-hours general practitioners: a retrospective chart study

Maria C De Korte-Verhoef1*, H Roeline W Pasman1, Bart PM Schweitzer2, Anneke L Francke13, Bregje D Onwuteaka-Philipsen1 and Luc Deliens14

Author Affiliations

1 VU University medical center (VUmc), EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, Department of Public and Occupational Health & Expertise Center Palliative Care VUmc, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

2 VU University medical center, EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, Department of General Practice, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

3 NIVEL, Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research, Utrecht, the Netherlands

4 Ghent University & Vrije Universiteit Brussel, End-of-life Care Research Group, Brussels, Belgium

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BMC Family Practice 2012, 13:89  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-13-89

Published: 22 August 2012



Many patients are transferred from home to hospital during the final phase of life and the majority die in hospital. The aim of the study is to explore hospital referrals of palliative care patients for whom an out-of-hours general practitioner was called.


A retrospective descriptive chart study was conducted covering a one-year period (1/Nov/2005 to 1/Nov/2006) in all eight out-of-hours GP co-operatives in the Amsterdam region (Netherlands). All symptoms, sociodemographic and medical characteristics were recorded in 529 charts for palliative care patients. Multivariate logistic regression analysis was performed to identify the variables associated with hospital referrals at the end of life.


In all, 13% of all palliative care patients for whom an out-of-hours general practitioner was called were referred to hospital. Palliative care patients with cancer (OR 5,1), cardiovascular problems (OR 8,3), digestive problems (OR 2,5) and endocrine, metabolic and nutritional (EMN) problems (OR 2,5) had a significantly higher chance of being referred. Patients receiving professional nursing care (OR 0,2) and patients for whom their own general practitioner had transferred information to the out-of-hours cooperative (OR 0,4) had a significantly lower chance of hospital referral. The most frequent reasons for hospital referral, as noted by the out-of-hours general practitioner, were digestive (30%), EMN (19%) and respiratory (17%) problems.


Whilst acknowledging that an out-of-hours hospital referral can be the most desirable option in some situations, this study provides suggestions for avoiding undesirable hospital referrals by out-of-hours general practitioners at the end of life. These include anticipating digestive, EMN, respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms in palliative care patients.

General Practice; Primary Care; Palliative Care; Out of Hours; Hospital Referral; Cancer; Symptoms