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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Transitions in care during the end of life: changes experienced following enrolment in a comprehensive palliative care program

Frederick I Burge1*, Beverley Lawson1, Patrick Critchley2 and David Maxwell1

Author affiliations

1 Department of Family Medicine, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, Canada

2 Active staff, Timmims and District Hospital, Timmons, ON, Canada

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Citation and License

BMC Palliative Care 2005, 4:3  doi:10.1186/1472-684X-4-3

Published: 22 February 2005

Abstract

Background

Transitions in the location of care and in who provides such care can be extremely stressful for individuals facing death and for those close to them. The objective of this study was to describe the distribution of transitions in care experienced by palliative care patients following admission to a comprehensive palliative care program (PCP). A better understanding of these transitions may aid in reducing unnecessary change, help predict care needs, enhance transitions that improve quality of life, guide health care system communication links and maximize the cost-effective utilization of different care settings and providers.

Methods

Transition and demographic information pertaining to all patients registered in the PCP at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre (QEII), Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada between January 1, 1998 and December 31, 2002 and who died on or prior to December 31, 2002 was extracted from the PCP database and examined. A transition was defined as either: (1) a change in location of where the patient was cared for by the PCP or, (2) a change in which clinical service provided care. Descriptive analysis provided frequencies and locations of transitions experienced from time of PCP admission to death and during the final two and four weeks of life, an examination of patient movement and a summary of the length of stay spent by patients at each care location.

Results

Over the five year period, 3974 adults admitted to the QEII PCP experienced a total of 5903 transitions (Mean 1.5; standard deviation 1.8; median 1). Patients with no transitions (28%) differed significantly from those who had experienced at least one transition with respect to survival time, age, location of death and diagnosis (p < 0.0001). The majority of patients were admitted to the PCP from various acute care units (66%). Although 54% of all transitions were made to the home, only 60% of these moves included care provided by PCP staff. During the last four weeks of life, 47% of patients experienced at least one transition; 36% during the final two weeks of life. Shorter stays in each location were evident when care was actively provided by the PCP.

Conclusion

A relatively small number of patients under the care of the PCP at the end of life, made several transitions in care setting or service provider. These particular patients need closer scrutiny to understand why such transitions take place so that clinical programs may be designed or modified to minimize the transitions themselves or the impact transitions have on patients and families.