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Timely community palliative and end-of-life care: a realist synthesis

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Petrova, Mila 
Wong, Geoff 
Wellwood, Ian 


ABSTRACT Background: Community- and home-based palliative and end of life care (PEoLC) services, often underpinned by primary care provision, are becoming increasingly popular. One of the key challenges associated with them is their timely initiation. The latter requires an accurate enough prediction of how close to death a patient is.

Methods: Using “realist synthesis” tools, this review sought to develop explanations of how primary care and community PEoLC programmes generate their outcomes, with the explanations presented as Context-Mechanism-Outcome (CMO) configurations. Medline, Embase, CINAHL, PsycINFO, Web of Science, ASSIA, Sociological Abstracts and SCIE Social Care Online were originally searched. A multi-stage process of focusing the review was employed, with timely identification of the EoL stage and timely initiation of associated services representing the final review focus. Synthesised sources included 21 full-text documents and 324 coded abstracts, with 253 “core contents” abstracts generating > 800 codes.

Results: Numerous PEoLC policies and programmes are embedded in a framework of Preparation and Planning for Death and Dying, with identification of the dying stage setting in motion key systems and services. This is challenged by: 1) accumulated evidence demonstrating low accuracy of prognostic judgements; 2) many individuals’ orientation towards Living and Hope; 3) expanding grey zones between palliative and curative care; 4) the complexity of referral decisions; 5) the loss of pertinent information in hierarchical relationships; 6) the ambiguous value of having “more time”.

Conclusion: Prioritising temporal criteria in initiating PEoLC services is not sufficiently supported by current evidence and can have significant unintended consequences.



clinical decisions, home care, prognosis, terminal care

Journal Title

BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care

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BMJ Publishing Group