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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Factors associated with multiple transitions in care during the end of life following enrollment in a comprehensive palliative care program

Beverley Lawson1*, Frederick I Burge1, Patrick Critchley2 and Paul McIntyre3

Author Affiliations

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

2 Active staff, Timmins and District Hospital, Timmins, ON, Canada

3 Division of Palliative Medicine, Dalhousie University/Capital District Health Authority, Halifax, NS, Canada

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BMC Palliative Care 2006, 5:4  doi:10.1186/1472-684X-5-4

Published: 30 May 2006



Patients often experience changes or transitions in where and by whom they are cared for at the end of life. These cause stress for both patients and families. Although not all transitions during the end of life can be avoided, advance identification of those who could potentially experience numerous transitions may allow providers and caregivers to anticipate the problem and consider strategies to minimize their occurrence. This study examines the relationship between patient characteristics and the total number of transitions experienced by the patient from the date of admission to a palliative care program (PCP) to death and during final weeks of life.


Subjects included all adults registered with the PCP in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada between 1998 and 2002 and who had died during that period. Data was extracted from the regional PCP database and linked to census information. Transitions were defined as either: 1) a change in location of where the patient was cared for; or 2) a change in which service (specialist groupings, primary care, etc) provided care. Descriptive statistics were calculated plus rate ratios for the association between patient characteristics and total number of transitions.


In total, 3972 patients made 5903 transitions during the study period. Although 28% experienced no transitions, over 40% experienced one and 6.3% five or more. At least one transition was made by 47% during the last four weeks of life. Adjusted results suggest women, the elderly and more recent death are associated with experiencing fewer transitions. Multiple transitions were associated with a hospital death and a cancer diagnosis. During the last month of life, age was no longer associated with the total number of transitions, cancer patients were found to experience a similar number or fewer transitions than patients with a non-cancer diagnosis and pain and symptom control become a significant factor associated with a greater number of transitions.


Our data suggest there is some variation in the number of transitions associated with the demographics and diagnoses of patients. Associations with gender and age require further exploration as does the contribution of caregiver supports and symptom issues.