Predictors of specialized pediatric palliative care involvement and impact on patterns of end-of-life care in children with cancer

The impact of specialized pediatric palliative care (SPPC) teams on patterns of end-of-life care is unknown. We sought to determine (1) which children with cancer access SPPC and (2) the impact of accessing SPPC on the risk of experiencing high-intensity end-of-life care (intensive care unit admission, mechanical ventilation, or in-hospital death).

Using a provincial childhood cancer registry, we assembled a retrospective cohort of Ontario children with cancer who died between 2000 and 2012 and received care through pediatric institutions with an SPPC team. Patients were linked to population-based administrative data capturing inpatient, outpatient, and emergency visits. Children were classified as having SPPC, general palliative care, or no palliative care on the basis of SPPC clinical databases, physician billing codes, or inpatient diagnosis codes.

Of the 572 children, 166 (29%) received care from an SPPC team for at least 30 days before death, and 100 (17.5%) received general palliative care. SPPC involvement was significantly less likely for children with hematologic cancers (OR, 0.3; 95% CI, 0.3 to 0.4), living in the lowest income areas (OR, 0.4; 95% CI, 0.2 to 0.8), and living further from the treatment center (OR, 0.5; 95% CI, 0.4 to 0.5). SPPC was associated with a five-fold decrease in odds of intensive care unit admission (OR, 0.2; 95% CI, 0.1 to 0.4), whereas general palliative care had no impact. Similar associations were seen with all secondary indicators.

When available, SPPC, but not general palliative care, is associated with lower intensity care at the end of life for children with cancer. However, access remains uneven. These results provide the strongest evidence to date supporting the creation of SPPC teams.

Lead Researchers

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  1. Christina Vadeboncoeur

    Investigator, CHEO Research Institute

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