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Open Access Research article

Emergency calls and need for emergency care in patients looked after by a palliative care team: Retrospective interview study with bereaved relatives

Christoph HR Wiese1*, Andrea Vossen-Wellmann2, Hannah C Morgenthal2, Aron F Popov3, Bernhard M Graf1 and Gerd G Hanekop1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Anaesthesiology, Emergency and Intensive Care Medicine, Medical Centre University of Goettingen, Goettingen, Germany

2 Department of Palliative Medicine, Medical Centre University of Goettingen, Goettingen, Germany

3 Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, Medical Centre University of Goettingen, Goettingen, Germany

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BMC Palliative Care 2008, 7:11  doi:10.1186/1472-684X-7-11

Published: 12 August 2008

Abstract

Background

During the last stage of life, palliative care patients often experience episodes of respiratory distress, bleeding, pain or seizures. In such situations, caregivers may call emergency medical services leading to unwanted hospital admissions. The study aims to show the influence of our palliative care team to reducing emergency calls by cancer patients or their relatives during the last six month of life.

Methods

Fifty relatives of deceased patients who had been attended by our palliative care team were randomly selected. Data was obtained retrospectively during a structured interview. In addition to demographic data, the number of emergency calls made during the final six months of the patient's life, the reason for the call and the mental compound score (MCS-12) of the caregivers was registered.

Results

Forty-six relatives agreed to the interview. Emergency calls were placed for 18 patients (39%) during the final six months of their lives. There were a total of 23 emergency calls. In 16 cases (70%) the patient was admitted to the hospital. Twenty-one (91%) of the calls were made before patients had been enrolled to receive palliative care from the team, and two (9%) were made afterwards. The mean mental compound score of the caregivers at the time of the interview was 41 (range 28–57). There was a lack of correlation between MCS-12 and number of emergency calls.

Conclusion

Emergency calls were more likely to occur if the patients were not being attended by our palliative care team. Because of the lack of correlation between MCS-12 and the number of emergency calls, the MCS-12 cannot indicate that acutely stressful situations triggered the calls. However, we conclude that special palliative care programs can reduce psychosocial strain in family caregivers. Therefore, the number of emergency calls may be reduced and this fact allows more palliative patients to die at home.