What Are Physicians' Reasons for Not Referring People with Life-Limiting Illnesses to Specialist Palliative Care Services? A Nationwide Survey.
Many people who might benefit from specialist palliative care services are not using them.
We examined the use of these services and the reasons for not using them in a population in potential need of palliative care.
We conducted a population-based survey regarding end-of-life care among physicians certifying a large representative sample (n = 6188) of deaths in Flanders, Belgium.
Palliative care services were not used in 79% of cases of people with organ failure, 64% of dementia and 44% of cancer. The most frequently indicated reasons were that 1) existing care already sufficiently addressed palliative and supportive needs (56%), 2) palliative care was not deemed meaningful (26%) and 3) there was insufficient time to initiate palliative care (24%). The reasons differed according to patient characteristics: in people with dementia the consideration of palliative care as not meaningful was more likely to be a reason for not using it; in older people their care needs already being sufficiently addressed was more likely to be a reason. For those patients who were referred the timing of referral varied from a median of six days before death (organ failure) to 16 days (cancer).
Specialist palliative care is not initiated in almost half of the people for whom it could be beneficial, most frequently because physicians deem regular caregivers to be sufficiently skilled in addressing palliative care needs. This would imply that the safeguarding of palliative care skills in this regular 'general' care is an essential health policy priority.