Prescribing in palliative care as death approaches.
OBJECTIVES: To determine how prescribing for comorbid illnesses and symptom control changes during the palliative phase of a terminal illness. DESIGN: This prospective cohort study explores the relative contribution to prescribing of symptom-specific medications (SSMs) and long-term medications for comorbid medical conditions. SETTING: Regional consultative palliative care program, Adelaide, South Australia. PARTICIPANTS: Two hundred sixty consecutive patients, 96% of whom had cancer, who enrolled and subsequently died in a larger randomized trial exploring palliative service delivery. MEASUREMENTS: Medication and performance data were collected monthly from referral until death (mean 107 days, median 93 days, standard deviation (SD) 103 days, range 11-752 days). Prespecified subgroup analyses of age, performance status, and the baseline use of medications for comorbid medical conditions were performed. RESULTS: At baseline, the mean total number of medications+/-SD was 4.9+/-2.8 (range 0-16), SSMs was 2.3+/-1.5 (range 0-7), and medications for comorbid medical conditions was 2.6+/-2.4 (range 0-13). As death approached, the total number of medications increased because of SSM prescribing (2.5 more medications, 95% confidence interval (CI)=2.2-2.9; P<.001) with a decrease in medications for comorbid medical conditions (1.1 fewer medications, 95% CI=0.8-1.3; P<.001). There was an increase in the number of medications meeting Beers' criteria for high-risk inappropriate medication use for SSMs (29% to 48%). More SSMs were prescribed in people with better performance status, and older participants took more medications for comorbid medical conditions. CONCLUSION: Prescribing changes as life-limiting illnesses progress, with older people taking more medications. Medications for comorbid medical conditions should be reviewed in the context of their original therapeutic goals.
Currow, DC; Stevenson, JP; Abernethy, AP; Plummer, J; Shelby-James, TM
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