Understanding end-of-life care in Australian hospitals

Imogen Mitchell, Jeanette Lacey, Matthew Anstey, Cathy Corbett, Carol Douglas, Christine Drummond, Michel Hensley, Amber Mills, Caroline Scott, Jo Anne Slee, Jennifer Weil, Brett Scholz*, Brandon Burke, Catherine D'Este

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    13 Citations (Scopus)


    Objective: To explore end-of-life care in the ward and intensive care unit (ICU) environment in nine Australian hospitals in a retrospective observational study. Methods: In total, 1693 in-hospital deaths, 356 in ICU, were reviewed, including patient demographics, advance care plans, life-sustaining treatments, recognition of dying by clinicians and evidence of the palliative approach to patient care. Results: Most patients (n = 1430, 84%) were aged ≥60 years, with a low percentage (n = 208, 12%) having an end-of-life care plan on admission. Following admission, 82% (n = 1391) of patients were recognised as dying, but the time between recognition of dying to death was short (ICU (staying 4-48 h) median 0.34 days (first quartile (Q1), third quartile (Q3): 0.16, 0.72); Ward (staying more than 48 h) median 2.1 days (Q1, Q3: 0.96, 4.3)). Although 41% (n = 621) patients were referred for specialist palliative care, most referrals were within the last few days of life (2.3 days (0.88, 5.9)) and 62% of patients (n = 1047) experienced active intervention in their final 48 h. Conclusions: Late recognition of dying can expose patients to active interventions and minimises timely palliative care. To attain alignment to the National Consensus Statement to improve experiences of end-of-life care, a nationally coordinated approach is needed. What is known about the topic?: The majority of Australian patient deaths occur in hospitals whose care needs to align to the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care's National Consensus Statement, essential elements of safe and high-quality end-of-life care. What does this paper add?: The largest Australian study of hospital deaths reveals only 12% of patients have existing advance care plans, recognition of death is predominantly within the last 48 h of life, with 60% receiving investigations and interventions during this time with late symptom relief. What are the implications for practitioners?: Given the poor alignment with the National Consensus Statement, a nationally coordinated approach would improve the patient experience of end-of-life care.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)540-547
    Number of pages8
    JournalAustralian Health Review
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


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