Palliative care benchmarks from academic medical centers

Martha L. Twaddle*, Terri L. Maxwell, J. Brian Cassel, Solomon Liao, Patrick J. Coyne, Barbara M. Usher, Alpesh Amin, Joanne Cuny

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


Introduction: Palliative care is growing in the United States but little is known about the quality of care delivered. Objective: To benchmark the quality of palliative care in academic hospitals. Design: Multicenter, cross-sectional, retrospective chart review conducted between October 1, 2002 and September 30, 2003. Setting: Thirty-five University HealthSystem Consortium (UHC) academic hospitals across the United States. Participants: A total of 1596 patient records. Inclusion criteria: (1) adults, (2) high-mortality diagnoses: selected cancers, heart failure, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and respiratory conditions requiring ventilator support, (3) length of stay (LOS) more than 4 days, and (4) two prior admissions in the preceding 12 months. Main outcome measures: Compliance with 11 key performance measures (KPM) derived from practice standards, literature evidence, and input from a multidisciplinary expert committee. Analyses examined relationships between provision of the KPM and specific outcomes. Results: Wide variability exists among academic hospitals in the provision of the KPM (0%-100%). The greater the compliance with KPM, the greater the improvement in quality outcomes, cost and LOS. Assessment of pain (96.1%) and dyspnea (90.2%) was high, but reduction of these symptoms was lower (73.3% and 77.2%). Documentation of prognosis (33.4%), psychosocial assessment (26.2%), communication with family/patient (46%), and timely planning for discharge disposition (53.4%) were low for this severely ill population (16.8% hospital mortality). Only 12.9% received a palliative care consultation. Conclusions: The study reveals significant opportunities for improvement in the effective delivery of palliative care. Care that met KPM was associated with improved quality, reduced costs and LOS. Institutions that benchmarked above 90% did so by integrating KPM into daily care processes and utilizing systematized triggers, forms and default pathways. The presence of a formalized palliative care program within a hospital system had a positive effect on the achievement of KPM, whether or not formal consultation occurred. Hospitals need to develop systematic methods to improve access to palliative care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)86-98
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of palliative medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

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