How palliative care professionals deal with predicting life expectancy at the end of life: predictors and accuracy

on behalf of the Via di Natale Hospice investigators

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: To assess the accuracy of hospice staff in predicting survival of subjects admitted to hospice, exploring the factors considered most helpful by the hospice staff to accurately predict survival. Methods: Five physicians and 11 nurses were asked to predict survival at admission of 827 patients. Actual and predicted survival times were divided into ≤ 1 week, 2–3 weeks, 4–8 weeks, and ≥ 2 months and the accuracy of the estimates was calculated. The staff members were each asked to score 17 clinical variables that guided them in predicting survival and we analyzed how these variables impacted the accuracy. Results: Physicians’ and nurses’ accuracy of survival of the patients was 46% and 40% respectively. Survival was underestimated in 20% and 12% and overestimated in 34% and 48% of subjects. Both physicians and nurses considered metastases, comorbidities, dyspnea, disability, tumor site, neurological symptoms, and confusion very important in predicting patients’ survival with nurses assigning more importance to intestinal symptoms and pain too. All these factors, with the addition of cough and/or bronchial secretions, were associated with physicians’ greater accuracy. In the multivariable models, intestinal symptoms and confusion continued to be associated with greater predictive accuracy. No factors appreciably raised nurses’ accuracy. Conclusions: Some clinical symptoms rated as relevant by the hospice staff could be important for predicting survival. However, only intestinal symptoms and confusion significantly improved the accuracy of physicians’ predictions, despite the high prevalence of overestimated survival.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSupportive Care in Cancer
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2020


  • Accuracy
  • Hospice
  • Observational study
  • Survival prediction
  • Terminally ill

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology


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