Patients referred to palliative care are most likely to have cancer, but the proportion has gone down since 2009 as other diagnoses have increased, according to a report from the National Palliative Care Registry.

In 2015, cancer patients made up 26% of the patients referred to palliative care, compared with 35% in 2009. The situation was reversed for the next three most common diagnoses in 2015: Cardiac diagnoses rose from 5% in 2009 to 13%, pulmonary diagnoses increased from 6% to 12%, and neurologic diagnoses went from 3% to 8%, the report showed.

Referrals by specialty were led by hospital medicine, which accounted for 48% of all patients referred to palliative care in 2015, with internal medicine/family medicine next at 14%, followed by pulmonary/critical care at 13% and oncology at 7%, the report said.

An increase in overall palliative care penetration was seen from 2009 to 2015, as the percentage of annual hospital admissions seen by a palliative care team increased from 2.7% to 4.8%. Over that same time period, the percentage of palliative care patients who died in the hospital decreased from 29% to 22%, according to the report.

In 2015, there were 420 palliative care programs participating in the registry, which is a joint project of the Center to Advance Palliative Care and the National Palliative Care Research Center.


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