Initiating End-of-Life Care At The Emergency Department: An Observational Study
Terminally ill patients at their end-of-life (EOL) phase attending the emergency department (ED) may have complex and specialized care needs frequently overlooked by ED physicians. To tailor to the needs of this unique group, the ED in a tertiary hospital implemented an EOL pathway since 2014. The objective of our study is to describe the epidemiological characteristics, symptom burden and management of patients using a protocolized management care bundle.
We conducted an observational study on the database of EOL patients over a 28-month period. Patients aged 21 years and above, who attended the ED and were managed according to these guidelines, were included. Clinical data were extracted from the hospital’s electronic medical records system.
Two hundred five patients were managed under the EOL pathway, with a slight male predominance (106/205, 51.7%) and a median age of 78 (interquartile range 69-87) years. The majority were chronically frail (42.0%) or diagnosed with cancer or other terminal illnesses (32.7%). The 3 most commonly experienced symptoms were drowsiness (66.3%), dyspnea (61.5%), and fever (29.7%). Through the protocolized management care bundle, 74.1% of patients with dyspnea and/or pain received opiates while 59.5% with copious secretions received hyoscine butylbromide for symptomatic relief.
The institution of a protocolized care bundle is feasible and provides ED physicians with a guide in managing EOL patients. Though still suboptimal, considerable advances in EOL care at the ED have been achieved and may be further improved through continual education and enhancements in the care bundle.