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Assessment Tools for Palliative Care

Technical Brief, No. 30

Investigators: , MD, PhD, , MD, MS, , MS, , PharmD, , BS, , MA, , MD, , BS, and , PhD.

Author Information and Affiliations
Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); .
Report No.: 17-EHC007-EF

Structured Abstract


To (1) provide an overview of palliative care assessment tools designed to be completed by or with patients or caregivers, including which tools have been applied to clinical care, as quality indicators, or in evaluations of interventions, and (2) identify needs for future palliative care assessment tool development and evaluation.


First, we engaged Key Informants representing both patient/caregiver and provider/researcher perspectives to help guide the project. We then sought systematic reviews of palliative care assessment tools and applications of tools through searches of PubMed, CINAHL, Cochrane, PsycINFO and PsycTESTS from January 1, 2007 to August 29, 2016. We conducted supplemental searches of information on palliative care tools, including comprehensive reviews published prior to our date limitation, Web sites, and a targeted search for primary articles to identify tools where no recent high-quality systematic review was identified. We organized tools by the eight domains (subdomains) from the National Consensus Project Clinical Practice Guidelines for Palliative Care: structure and process, physical, psychological and psychiatric, social (caregiver), spiritual and religious, cultural, care at the end of life (bereavement), ethical and legal; as well as a ninth domain for multidimensional tools (quality of life and patient experience).


We included 10 systematic reviews of palliative care assessment tools (7 addressing different domains and 3 addressing applications of tools). We identified 152 tools (97 from systematic reviews and 55 from supplemental sources). Key gaps included: no identified systematic review for the subdomain of pain and a paucity of tools to assess structure and process, cultural, ethical and legal domains, and patient-reported experience. Information on internal consistency, reliability, construct validity, and usability was available for many tools, but few studies evaluated responsiveness (sensitivity to change). Only six studies evaluated the use of assessment tools in clinical practice, and we identified only one quality indicator with a specified assessment tool. Twenty-three different palliative care assessment tools were used in 43 intervention studies.


We identified more than 150 assessment tools addressing most domains of palliative care, but few tools addressed the spiritual, structure and process, ethical and legal, or cultural domains, or the patient-reported experience subdomain. While some data on the psychometric properties of tools exist, the responsiveness of different tools to change has largely not been evaluated. Future research should focus on: (1) developing or testing tools in palliative care populations for domains with few or no tools, (2) evaluating responsiveness of tools for all domains, and (3) further studying the use of palliative care tools in clinical care and as quality indicators.


Prepared for: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services1, Contract No. 290-2015-00006-I. Prepared by: Johns Hopkins University Evidence-based Practice Center, Baltimore, MD

Suggested citation:

Aslakson R, Dy SM, Wilson RF, Waldfogel JM, Zhang A, Isenberg SR, Blair A, Sixon J, Robinson KA. Assessment Tools for Palliative Care. Technical Brief No. 30 (Prepared by Johns Hopkins University under Contract No. 290-2015-00006-I.) AHRQ Publication No. 14-17-EHC007-EF. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; May 2017. www.effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/reports/final.cfm. doi: https://doi.org/10.23970/AHRQEPCTB30.

This report is based on research conducted by the Johns Hopkins University Evidence-based Practice Center (EPC) under contract to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), Rockville, MD (Contract No. 290-2015-00006-I). The findings and conclusions in this document are those of the authors, who are responsible for its contents; the findings and conclusions do not necessarily represent the views of AHRQ. Therefore, no statement in this report should be construed as an official position of AHRQ or of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

None of the investigators have any affiliations or financial involvement that conflicts with the material presented in this report.

The information in this report is intended to help health care decisionmakers—patients and clinicians, health system leaders, and policymakers, among others—make well-informed decisions and thereby improve the quality of health care services. This report is not intended to be a substitute for the application of clinical judgment. Anyone who makes decisions concerning the provision of clinical care should consider this report in the same way as any medical reference and in conjunction with all other pertinent information, i.e., in the context of available resources and circumstances presented by individual patients.

AHRQ or U.S. Department of Health and Human Services endorsement of any derivative products that may be developed from this report, such as clinical practice guidelines, other quality enhancement tools, or reimbursement or coverage policies, may not be stated or implied.


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Bookshelf ID: NBK447774PMID: 28837305


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