Unmet palliative care service needs: a patient-centred metric

Nusha Safabakhsh, Megan P. Lippe, Shahrooz Govahi, Matthew J. Gonzales, Ira Byock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives Financial pressures and competing demands for limited resources highlight the importance of defining the unmet need for specialty inpatient palliative care (PC), demonstrating the value of the service line and making decisions about staffing. One measure of access to specialty PC is penetration, the percentage of hospitalised adults receiving PC consultations. Although useful, additional means of quantifying programme performance are required for evaluating access by patients who would benefit. The study sought to define a simplified method of calculating unmet need for inpatient PC. Methods This retrospective observational study analysed electronic health records from six hospitals in one health system in Los Angeles County. Unmet need for PC was defined by the number of hospitalised patients with four or more chronic serious comorbidities without a PC consultation divided by a denominator of all patients with one or more chronic serious conditions (CSCs) without a PC during the hospitalisation. Results This calculation identified a subset of patients with four or more CSCs that accounts for 10.3% of the population of adults with one or more CSCs who did not receive PC services during a hospitalisation (unmet need). Monthly internal reporting of this metric led to significant PC programme expansion with an increase in average penetration for the six hospitals from 5.9% in 2017 to 11.2% in 2021. Conclusions Health system leadership can benefit from quantifying the need for specialty PC among seriously ill inpatients. This anticipated measure of unmet need is a quality indicator that complements existing metrics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E1343-E1348
JournalBMJ Supportive and Palliative Care
Issue numbere1
StatePublished - May 1 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medical–Surgical
  • Oncology(nursing)
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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