End of life care
Metropolitan hospital

Learn how a hospital Clinical Governance Unit responded to data showing many patients at the end of their lives were having futile and potentially distressing interventions, such as blood tests and resuscitation by the rapid response team. A multidisciplinary team used the End-of-Life Care Audit Toolkit to investigate the issue and discussed the factors that could be contributing to the poor results. Earlier identification of people at the end of life, and better documentation of care goals, resulted in improvements in end-of-life care.

To view the summarised case study, you can skip to At a glance.

Last updated on 19 October 2022

Step 1. Select priority areas
Step 1. Select priority areas

Uncovering the problem – poor quality end-of-life care

The Clinical Governance Unit in an adult acute hospital reviewed the minutes of all the morbidity and mortality meetings from the previous year. The review noted that one-third of patients who died had been seen by the rapid response team once or more before they died and, that of these patients, 40% had a new treatment limitation put in place by the rapid response team. Ideally, treatment limitations for end-of-life care should be put in place by the admitting team, after discussion with the patient and family, to avoid unnecessary and potentially distressing interventions. 

The morbidity and mortality minutes review prompted the Clinical Governance Unit to review their policies in light of the National Consensus Statement: essential elements for safe and high-quality end of life care. This statement, and the NSQHS Standards, require health service organisations to measure and improve the quality of end-of-life care. The Clinical Governance Unit asked the Safety and Quality manager to lead this work. 

Step 2. Plan the project
Step 2. Plan the project

Finding the right tool for the job – one that allows comparisons

The Safety and Quality manager assembled a team with medical, nursing, palliative care, consumer, and rapid response team representatives. The team decided to use the End of life Care Audit Toolkit, because it allows comparison with similar services and the rest of the hospital network was already using it. The End-of-Life Care Audit Toolkit includes:

  • Audit tool for data collection from patient records
  • Clinician survey tool 
  • Hospital demographic information survey tool for benchmarking
  • Data dictionary
  • Analysis advice with a plan and table templates
  • Presentation template.
Step 3. Measure and review
Step 3. Measure and review

Assessing the findings – do they measure up to the standard of care?

The team audited the records for 200 randomly selected patients who died on an inpatient ward more than 48 hours after admission. Patients on the mental health ward or maternity ward were excluded.

The results showed:

  • 20% of patients had an advance care plan documenting their goals of care
  • 53% of patients were seen by the rapid response team in the last 48 hours of life (most more than once) and 90% had interventions like blood tests performed during this time
  • 40% of patients were referred to specialist palliative care services, but 32% were referred within 24 hours prior to death. 

All clinicians from the relevant wards were asked to complete the audit survey. Responses from 109 clinicians found that 68% had not had any training about end of life conversations, and 80% of clinicians thought they were able to identify patients nearing end-of-life.

The data highlighted minimal use of advance care planning, late recognition of dying and that triggers to recognise patients who may be at the end of life were not always acted on, resulting in unnecessary, and potentially distressing, interventions for dying patients. Clinicians’ overestimated their ability to identify dying patients.

When compared to similar wards in the network, results were not significantly different. However, the team identified these areas for improvement because they varied significantly from the guiding principals of the National Consensus Statement: essential elements for safe and high-quality end-of-life care.

Step 4. Explore reasons
Step 4. Explore reasons

Getting to the root of the problem – look for all the angles

The team thought likely reasons for the poor results included:

  • Inconsistent recording and storage of advance care plans across services in the facility
  • Inconsistent documentation of goals of care on comprehensive care plan
  • Insufficient clinician training
  • Lack of a specific trigger tool for identifying end of life.
Step 5. Act to improve
Step 5. Act to improve

Putting the changes in place – a multi-faceted approach

The team met again with several departments to discuss potential improvements, resulting in the following changes being introduced over the subsequent three months:

  • Use of disease-specific assessment tools for all admitted patients in three wards, to help identify end of life
  • Asking all patients “what is important to you?” as part of admission processes to support goal setting and care planning 
  • Promotion of online training for clinicians (End-of-life essentials) by the clinical governance unit and palliative care service
  • An audit of comprehensive care plans to ensure they were being developed using a multidisciplinary process.
Step 6. Monitor and report
Step 6. Monitor and report

Looking at the impact – celebrate success and build on it

The team conducted a follow up end-of-life care audit six months later, finding:

  • 42% of patients admitted to the facility had an advance care plan (increased from 20%)
  • 24% of patients were seen by the rapid response team in the last 48 hours of life (most more than once) and 72% had interventions like blood tests performed during this time (down from 53% and 90%, respectively)
  • 73% of clinical staff had completed selected online training modules
  • The specialist palliative care service saw an increase in telephone consultation although there was not a significant increase in referral or transfer of care. 

The team considered the successes of the program and looked at measures to refine and share the learning across the network to encourage further improvement. They conducted regular audits of end of life care every six months and provided the results to the Clinical Governance Unit. 

The team introduced further initiatives to address needs identified in the regular audits. Assessing the quality of end-of-life care was also introduced as a regular item in mortality review meetings in the network to maintain the focus and sustain the improvements.

At a glance

Issues
  • Patients at the end of life receiving inappropriate interventions
  • Late referrals to palliative care
  • Rapid response team initiating treatment limitation orders instead of admitting team
Barriers
  • No trigger for changing goals of treatment
  • Inconsistent documentation of goals of care
  • Lack of staff training in end-of-life care
Enablers
  • Executive support for changes
  • Multidisciplinary team participation to investigate and address issues
  • End-of-Life Care Audit Toolkit
  • Staff time allocated for end-of-life care training
Solutions
  • Use of disease-specific assessment tools to help identify people at end-of-life
  • Asking patients “What is important to you?” as part of admission to support goal setting 
  • Clinician training in end-of-life care