LOS ANGELES (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – A significant percentage of patients who meet criteria for palliative care consultations do not receive a consult during their hospital stay, results from a single-center retrospective analysis showed.

“Physicians need to recognize the palliative care needs of patients with chronic illnesses other than malignancy before they get admitted to the ICU, especially when these patients are admitted repeatedly for the same problem [and] have a significant decline in functional status with a large symptom burden,” Mohleen Kang, MD, said in an interview in advance of the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians. “There is a potential missed opportunity for these conversations to occur with the patients and their family prior to their decompensation and crisis.”

Twenty-nine percent (132) of the patients studied met an indication for a palliative care consult (PCC), with only 35 (27%) of such patients having received a PCC. Patients with metastatic cancer were significantly more likely to have received a PCC, compared with non-cancer patients (64% vs. 21%, respectively; P less than .001), while patients with New York Heart Association Class III or IV congestive heart failure were less likely to receive a PCC, compared with those who did not have congestive heart failure (5.6% vs. 29.8%; P = .014).

Criteria for PCC on admission include a life-limiting diagnosis and more than one admission in the past 3 months, decline in function, or complex care requirements. Criteria for PCC during hospitalization include life-limiting diagnosis and uncertainty about decisions, an ICU stay greater than 7 days, or lack of goals of care.

Dr. Kang, chief resident in the department of medicine at New Jersey Medical School, Newark, presented the results, which were of patients admitted to the department of medicine at University Hospital in Newark in 2015. Those admitted to the ICU within 24 hours of admission were excluded from the analysis, leaving 461 patient charts that were screened for PCC needs based on the consensus report from the Center to Advance Palliative Care.

The patients who met an indication for PCC had a mean age of 60 years and an average length of stay of 7 days. The percentages of these patients who were female, African American, and Hispanic were 45%, 40%, and 21%, respectively.

On multivariate analysis, patients who had a PCC within 72 hours of admission were eight times more likely to have a hospital length of stay less than 7 days (P = .019), while those who had a PCC within 48 hours of admission were 20 times more likely to have a hospital length of stay less than 7 days (P = .017). “So if we intervened early, we were able to decrease their length of stay to less than 7 days,” Dr. Kang said at the meeting.

She acknowledged certain limitations of the study, including its small sample size, retrospective design, and lack of follow-up. “This study also has a lot of confounding socioeconomic factors that do not make it applicable to every hospital across the country,” she said. “This is not a homogeneous patient population.”

The study’s principal investigator was Anne Sutherland, MD, medical intensive care unit director at University Hospital. Dr. Kang reported having no financial disclosures.


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