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Social and clinical determinants of preferences and their achievement at the end of life: prospective cohort study of older adults receiving palliative care in three countries

  • Higginson, Irene J.1
  • Daveson, Barbara A.1
  • Morrison, R. Sean2
  • Yi, Deokhee1
  • Meier, Diane2
  • Smith, Melinda1
  • Ryan, Karen3
  • McQuillan, Regina4
  • Johnston, Bridget M.5
  • Normand, Charles5
  • 1 Policy & Rehabilitation, King’s College London, and King’s College Hospital, Cicely Saunders Institute Of Palliative Care, Bessemer Road, London, SE5 9PJ, UK , London (United Kingdom)
  • 2 Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Department of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine, One Gustave L. Levy Place, New York, NY, 10029-6574, USA , New York (United States)
  • 3 Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Eccles Street, Dublin 7, Ireland , Dublin 7 (Ireland)
  • 4 Beaumont Hospital, Beaumont Road, Dublin 9, Ireland , Dublin 9 (Ireland)
  • 5 The Centre of Health Policy and Management, Trinity College Dublin, Room 0.21, 3-4 Foster Place, College Green, Dublin 2, Ireland , Dublin 2 (Ireland)
Published Article
BMC Geriatrics
BioMed Central
Publication Date
Nov 23, 2017
DOI: 10.1186/s12877-017-0648-4
Springer Nature


BackgroundAchieving choice is proposed as a quality marker. But little is known about what influences preferences especially among older adults. We aimed to determine and compare, across three countries, factors associated with preferences for place of death and treatment, and actual site of death.MethodsWe recruited adults aged ≥65-years from hospital-based multiprofessional palliative care services in London, Dublin, New York, and followed them for >17 months. All services offered consultation on hospital wards, support for existing clinical teams, outpatient services and received funding from their National Health Service and/or relevant Insurance reimbursements. The New York service additionally had 10 inpatient beds. All worked with and referred patients to local hospices. Face-to-face interviews recorded most and least preferred place of death, treatment goal priorities, demographic and clinical information using validated questionnaires. Multivariable and multilevel analyses assessed associated factors.ResultsOne hundred and thirty eight older adults (64 London, 59 Dublin, 15 New York) were recruited, 110 died during follow-up. Home was the most preferred place of death (77/138, 56%) followed by inpatient palliative care/hospice units (22%). Hospital was least preferred (35/138, 25%), followed by nursing home (20%) and home (16%); hospice/palliative care unit was rarely least preferred (4%). Most respondents prioritised improving quality of life, either alone (54%), or equal with life extension (39%); few (3%) chose only life extension. There were no significant differences between countries. Main associates with home preference were: cancer diagnosis (OR 3.72, 95% CI 1.40–9.90) and living with someone (OR 2.19, 1.33–3.62). Adults with non-cancer diagnoses were more likely to prefer palliative care units (OR 2.39, 1.14–5.03). Conversely, functional independence (OR 1.05, 1.04–1.06) and valuing quality of life (OR 3.11, 2.89–3.36) were associated with dying at home. There was a mismatch between preferences and achievements – of 85 people who preferred home or a palliative care unit, 19 (25%) achieved their first preference.ConclusionAlthough home is the most common first preference, it is polarising and for 16% it is the least preferred. Inpatient palliative care unit emerges as the second most preferred place, is rarely least preferred, and yet was often not achieved for those who wanted to die there. Factors affecting stated preferences and met preferences differ. Available services, notably community support and palliative care units, require expansion. Contrasting actual place of death with capacity for meeting patient and family needs may be a better quality indicator than simply ‘achieved preferences’.

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