Open Access Study protocol

Nationwide monitoring of end-of-life care via the Sentinel Network of General Practitioners in Belgium: the research protocol of the SENTI-MELC study

Lieve Van den Block1, Viviane Van Casteren2, Reginald Deschepper1, Nathalie Bossuyt2, Katrien Drieskens1, Sabien Bauwens3, Johan Bilsen14 and Luc Deliens15*

Author Affiliations

1 End-of-Life Care Research Group, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium

2 Scientific Institute of Public Health, Unit of Epidemiology, Brussels, Belgium

3 Centre for Oncology, University Hospital Brussels, Belgium

4 Bioethics Institute, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium

5 Department of Public and Occupational Health, and EMGO Institute, VU University Medical Centre, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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BMC Palliative Care 2007, 6:6  doi:10.1186/1472-684X-6-6

Published: 8 October 2007

Abstract

Background

End-of-life care has become an issue of great clinical and public health concern. From analyses of official death certificates, we have societal knowledge on how many people die, at what age, where and from what causes. However, we know little about how people are dying. There is a lack of population-based and nationwide data that evaluate and monitor the circumstances of death and the care received in the final months of life. The present study was designed to describe the places of end-of-life care and care transitions, the caregivers involved in patient care and the actual treatments and care provided to dying patients in Belgium. The patient, residence and healthcare characteristics associated with these aspects of end-of-life care provision will also be studied. In this report, the protocol of the study is outlined.

Methods/Design

We designed a nationwide mortality follow-back study with data collection in 2005 and 2006, via the nationwide Belgian Sentinel Network of General Practitioners (GPs) i.e. an existing epidemiological surveillance system representative of all GPs in Belgium, covering 1.75% of the total Belgian population. All GPs were asked to report weekly, on a standardized registration form, every patient (>1 year) in their practice who had died, and to identify patients who had died "non-suddenly." The last three months of these patients' lives were surveyed retrospectively. Several quality control measures were used to ensure data of high scientific quality.

Discussion

In 2005 and 2006, respectively 1385 and 1305 deaths were identified of which 66% and 63% died non-suddenly. The first results are expected in 2007. Via this study, we will build a descriptive epidemiological database on end-of-life care provision in Belgium, which might serve as baseline measurement to monitor end-of-life care over time. The study will inform medical practice as well as healthcare authorities in setting up an end-of-life care policy. We publish the protocol here to inform others, in particular countries with analogue GP surveillance networks, on the possibilities of performing end-of-life care research. A preliminary analysis of the possible strengths, weaknesses and opportunities of our research is outlined.