Bereaved families were substantially more satisfied with end-of-life cancer care when patients did not die in hospital, received more than 3 days of hospice care, and did not enter the ICU within 30 days of dying, according to a multicenter, prospective study published online Jan. 19 in JAMA.
The analysis is one of the first of its type to assess these end-of-life care indicators, said Dr. Alexi Wright of Harvard Medical School, Boston, and her associates. The findings could affect health policy as electronic health records expand under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, they said.
End-of-life cancer care has become increasingly aggressive, belying evidence that this approach does not improve patient outcomes, quality of life, or caregiver bereavement. To explore alternatives, the researchers analyzed 1,146 interviews of family members of Medicare patients who died of lung or colorectal cancer by 2011. Their data source was the multiregional, prospective, observational Cancer Care Outcomes Research and Surveillance (CanCORS) study (JAMA 2016;315:284-92).
Family members described end-of-life care as “excellent” 59% of the time when hospice care lasted more 3 days, but 43% of the time otherwise (95% confidence interval for adjusted difference, 11% to 22%). Notably, 73% of patients who received more than 3 days of hospice care died in their preferred location, compared with 40% of patients who received less or no hospice care. Care was rated as excellent 52% of the time when ICU admission was avoided within 30 days of death, and 57% of the time when patients died outside the hospital, compared with 45% and 42% of the time otherwise.
The results support “advance care planning consistent with the preferences of patients,” said the investigators. They recommended more extensive counseling of cancer patients and families, earlier palliative care referrals, and an audit and feedback system to monitor the use of aggressive end-of-life care.
The National Cancer Institute and the Cancer Care Outcomes Research and Surveillance Consortium funded the study. One coinvestigator reported financial relationships with the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, National Institute of Nursing Research, National Institute on Aging, Retirement Research Retirement Foundation, California Healthcare Foundation, Commonwealth Fund, West Health Institute, University of Wisconsin, and UpToDate.com. Senior author Dr. Mary Landrum, also of Harvard Medical School, reported grant funding from Pfizer and personal fees from McKinsey and Company and Greylock McKinnon Associates. The other authors had no disclosures.