BACKGROUND: A palliative approach at the end of life typically involves forgoing certain drugs and procedures and starting others - weighing burden against potential benefit. An assessment of the palliative approach may be undertaken by investigating which drugs and procedures are used in the dying phase, and at what frequencies.
METHODS: Drugs were classified as potentially (in)appropriate based on expert classification. Procedures were classed as therapeutic or diagnostic. 271 consecutive cancer deaths from across 16 hospital general wards and 5 hospices in Italy gathered data on drugs and procedures in the final three days of life through a standardised form. Differences between the two groups were tested using chi-square testing, and logistic regressions were performed to control for patient characteristics.
RESULTS: 75.0% of patients in hospital received 3 or more potentially inappropriate drugs in their last three days of life, against 42.6% in hospice. Diagnostic procedures were carried out more frequently in hospital. Multivariate logistic regression showed that when data was controlled for patient characteristics, setting had a unique contribution to the differences found in use of drugs and procedures.
CONCLUSION: The data indicates a need for improvement in the hospital setting concerning recognising the need for palliative care, and ensuring a timely introduction of this approach.
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