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Palliative care case managers in primary care: a descriptive study of referrals in relation to treatment aims.

Plas, A.G.M. van der, Onwuteaka-Philipsen, B.D., Francke, A.L., Jansen, W.J.J., Vissers, K.C., Deliens, L. Palliative care case managers in primary care: a descriptive study of referrals in relation to treatment aims. Journal of Palliative Medicine: 2015, 18(4), 324-331
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Background
Three important elements of the World Health Organization (WHO) definition of palliative care are:
1) it includes patients who may have cure or life prolongation as treatment aims besides palliative care;
2) it is not exclusively for cancer patients;
3) it includes attention to the medical, psychological, social, and spiritual needs of the patients and their families.

Case managers (nurses with expertise in palliative care) may assist generalist primary care providers in delivery of good palliative care.

Objectives
This study investigates the referral of patients to case managers in primary care with regard to the three elements mentioned: diagnosis, treatment aims, and needs as reflected in reasons given for referral.

Methods
In this cross-sectional survey in primary care among case managers and referrers to case management, case managers completed questionnaires for 687 patients; referrers completed 448 (65%).

Results
Most patients referred have a combination of treatment aims (69%). Life expectancy and functional status of patients are lower for those with a treatment aim of palliation. Almost all (96%) of those referred are cancer patients. A need for psychosocial support is frequently given as a reason for referral (66%) regardless of treatment aim.

Conclusions
Referrals to case managers reflect two of three elements of the WHO definition. Mainly, patients are referred for support complementary to medical care, and relatively early in their disease trajectory. However, most of those referred are cancer patients. Thus, to fully reflect the definition, broadening the scope to reach other patient groups is important. (aut. ref.)