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Intern Med J. 2012 Sep;42(9):984-9.

Rapid death after admission to palliative care.



Palliative care units provide non-curative treatment and support to patients with terminal illness. Brief end-of-life admissions are disruptive for patients and their families, and increase staff stress. Extremely rapid deaths (survival <24 h from admission) are particularly challenging for all involved. From 1 January 2010 to 23 August 2011, 256 patients died on the Palliative Care Unit (Caritas Christi) at St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne. Forty-two died within 24 h (16%), while 214 survived beyond 24 h (84%).


A retrospective chart audit was conducted, aiming to identify factors characterising those patients who died within 24 h.


Groups were compared for age, gender, country of birth, preferred language, ward of origin, primary pathology, time trends, whether an emergency code was called, Palliative Care Outcomes Collaboration (PCOC) phase, modified Karnofsky score and commencement of a syringe driver for medication.


Results showed that admission from neurosurgery (P= 0.0001), a vascular or infective pathology (P= 0.0001), PCOC phase ≥ 3 (P= 0.0001), modified Karnofsky score ≤ 20% (P= 0.0001), and commencement of a syringe driver prior to or at admission (P= 0.0001) were all significantly associated with death within 24 h of admission. On binary logistic regression, the only independent predictor of patients likely to die in <24 h from admission was PCOC phase ≥ 3 (P= 0.002).

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