Background: Specialist palliative care teams (SPCTs) in hospitals improve quality of life and satisfaction with care for patients with advanced disease. However, referrals to SPCTs are often limited. To identify areas for improvement of SPCTs’ service penetration, we explored the characteristics and level of integration of palliative care programmes and SPCTs in Dutch hospitals and we assessed the relation between these characteristics and specialist palliative care referral rates. Methods: We performed a secondary analysis of a national cross-sectional survey conducted among hospitals in the Netherlands from March through May 2018. For this survey, a previously developed online questionnaire, containing 6 consensus-based integration indicators, was sent to palliative care programme leaders in all 78 hospitals. For referral rate we calculated the number of annual inpatient referrals to the SPCT as a percentage of the number of total annual hospital admissions. Referral rate was dichotomized into high (≥ third quartile) and low (< third quartile). Characteristics of SPCTs with high and low referral rate were compared using univariate analyses. P-values < 0.05 were considered significant. Results: In total, 63 hospitals (81%) participated in the survey, of which 62 had an operational SPCT. The palliative care programmes of these hospitals consisted of inpatient consultation services (94%), interdisciplinary staffing (61%), outpatient clinics (45%), dedicated acute care beds (21%) and community-based palliative care (27%). The median referral rate was 0.56% (IQR 0.23–1.0%), ranging from 0 to 3.7%. Comparing SPCTs with high referral rate (≥1%, n = 17) and low referral rate (< 1%, n = 45) showed significant differences for SPCTs’ years of existence, staffing, their level of education, participation in other departments’ team meetings, provision of education and conducting research. With regard to integration, significant differences were found for the presence of outpatient clinics and timing of referrals. Conclusion: In the Netherlands, palliative care programmes and specialist palliative care teams in hospitals vary in their level of integration and development, with more mature teams showing higher referral rates. Appropriate staffing, dedicated outpatient clinics, education and research appear means to improve service penetration and timing of referral for patients with advanced diseases.
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We would like to thank all key professionals of the specialist palliative care teams for their time and effort in completion of this survey. Furthermore we like to acknowledge Marianne Klinkenberg, senior advisor for palliative-care networks at Fibula network organization for her continuing time and effort dedicated to this recurring survey. This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0.
© 2021, The Author(s).