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Starting palliative care sooner could help keep people out of hospital

Providing earlier access to palliative care could see fewer hospital admissions at the end of life and lower healthcare costs, research has found.

Study lead Cameron Wright, from the School of Public Health at Curtin University, said the findings were important given the wish among many people receiving palliative care to die at home.

The research, published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, examined the care of 16,439 people who died from cancer in Western Australia between 2001 and 2011, and accessed community-based palliative care services.

Wright and his colleagues found offering community-based palliative care to a person before the last six months of their life was linked with a lower rate of unplanned hospitalisations in that last six months as well as lower healthcare costs.

He said: “This study suggests a link between accessing community-based palliative care earlier and fewer unplanned hospitalisation and emergency department presentations, as well as lower associated healthcare costs in the final 12 months of a person’s life.

“In some parts of the world, including the United States of America, access to community-based palliative care is restricted to a certain expected time before death but this study suggests there may be a benefit for both the patient and the health system for this support to be provided at home earlier.

“As populations age, strategic planning of palliative care will be important to ensure the quality and sustainability of end-of-life care.”

Aged Care Insite spoke with Wright about the benefits of and downsides to providing palliative care earlier and what he hopes policymakers do with the findings.

The paper was co-authored by Associate Professor Rachael Moorin and PhD candidate and research associate David Youens, both from Curtin.

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