Integrating Palliative Care in Pediatric Oncology: Evidence for an Evolving Paradigm for Comprehensive Cancer Care

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Background: The demonstrated benefit of integrating palliative care (PC) into cancer treatment has triggered an increased need for PC services. The trajectory of integrating PC in comprehensive cancer centers, particularly pediatric centers, is unknown. We describe our 8-year experience of initiating and establishing PC with the Quality of Life Service (QoLS) at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Methods: We retrospectively reviewed records of patients seen by the QoLS (n=615) from March 2007 to December 2014. Variables analyzed for each year, using descriptive statistics, included diagnostic groups, QoLS encounters, goals of care, duration of survival, and location of death. Results: Total QoLS patient encounters increased from 58 (2007) to 1,297 (2014), new consults increased from 17 (2007) to 115 (2014), and mean encounters per patient increased from 5.06 (2007) to 16.11 (2014). Goal of care at initial consultation shifted from primarily comfort to an increasing goal of cure. The median number of days from initial consult to death increased from 52 days (2008) to 223 days (2014). A trend toward increased outpatient location of death was noted with 42% outpatient deaths in 2007, increasing to a majority in each subsequent year (range, 51%–74%). Hospital-wide, patients receiving PC services before death increased from approximately 50% to nearly 100%. Conclusions: Since its inception, the QoLS experienced a dramatic increase in referrals and encounters per patient, increased use by all clinical services, a trend toward earlier consultation and longer term follow-up, increasing outpatient location of death, and near-universal PC involvement at the end-of-life. The successful integration of PC in a comprehensive cancer center, and the resulting potential for improved care provision over time, can serve as a model for other programs on a broad scale.

Correspondence: Justin N. Baker, MD, Division of Quality of Life and Palliative Care, MS 260, 262 North Danny Thomas Place, Memphis, TN 38105. E-mail: Justin.Baker@stjude.org
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