Emergency department-triggered palliative care in advanced cancer: Proof of concept

Emmett A. Kistler, R. Sean Morrison, Lynne D. Richardson, Joanna M. Ortiz, Corita R. Grudzen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Background The American College of Emergency Physicians and the American Society of Clinical Oncology recommend early palliative care consultation for patients with advanced, life-limiting illnesses, such as metastatic cancer. Objectives The objectives were to assess the process of early referral from the emergency department (ED) to palliative care for patients with advanced, incurable cancer as part of a randomized controlled trial and to compare the proportion and timing of consultation to a care as usual group. Methods A single-blind randomized controlled trial (ClinicalTrials.gov ID NCT01358110) compared early, ED-based referrals to palliative care for patients admitted with advanced, incurable cancer to physician-driven consultation (i.e., care as usual). Participants had to speak English or Spanish and have no history of palliative care consultation. They were randomized via balanced block randomization to the intervention or control group. Each intervention subject was referred by a research staff member to the palliative care team for consultation. The usual care group received palliative care only if requested by the admitting physician. Analysis was based on intention to treat. A chart review was performed to assess proportion and timing of palliative care consults during the index admission, defined as: 1) completed palliative care consult documented in the chart and 2) days from admission to palliative care consult. Results A total of 134 participants were enrolled and randomized. For patients in the intervention group, 88% (60 of 68) had documented palliative care consultations during their index admissions (95% confidence interval [CI] = 80.5 to 95.5), compared to 18% (12 of 66) in the control group (95% CI = 8.8 to 27.5; p < 0.01). The 60 intervention patients received palliative care consultations on average 1.48 days from admission (95% CI = 1.19 to 1.76), compared to 2.9 days from admission in the 12 control patients (95% CI = 1.03 to 4.79; p = 0.15). Conclusions This study documented a low baseline rate of palliative care involvement as part of usual care in patients with advanced cancer being admitted from the ED. Early referral to palliative care in the context of a research study significantly increased the likelihood that patients received a consult, thus meriting further investigation of how to generalize this approach.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-239
Number of pages3
JournalAcademic Emergency Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2015


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