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J Palliat Med. 2017 Mar;20(3):285-289. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2016.0225. Epub 2016 Dec 21.

The Intensive Palliative Care Unit: Changing Outcomes for Hospitalized Cancer Patients in an Academic Medical Center.

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1 Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute , Boston, Massachusetts.
3 Department of Biostatistics and Computational Biology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute , Boston, Massachusetts.
4 Department of Medical Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute , Boston, Massachusetts.
5 Department of Quality Improvement, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute , Boston, Massachusetts.
2 Department of Palliative Care, Butler Health System , Butler, Pennsylvania.



Patients with advanced cancer often require complex symptom management. At Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center, the intensive palliative care unit (IPCU) admits symptomatic oncology patients with uncontrolled symptoms throughout the trajectory of illness. Patients are uniquely managed by an interdisciplinary team of clinicians who focus on symptom management and advance care planning.


The purpose of our analysis was to investigate goals-of-care outcomes and healthcare utilization after admission to the IPCU.


We retrospectively reviewed 74 oncology patients admitted to the IPCU in August and September, 2013.


A total of 67 IPCU patients who were admitted received palliative intent treatment, whereas 7 patients received curative intent care. All patients were engaged in a goals-of-care discussion during admission. Of the palliative intent patients, 58% were transferred to the IPCU from medical oncology and 42% were directly admitted. Forty-eight percent of the patients were diagnosed with metastatic lung, genitourinary, or gastrointestinal cancer. Eighty-seven percent of patients reported pain as the chief complaint at admission. Twenty-five patients experienced a change in code status from Full Code to do-not-resuscitate/do-not-incubate. A total of eight patients died in the IPCU, and 50% experienced a code status change. Eighty-eight percent of patients were discharged alive. Of those, 49% were discharged to home hospice, general inpatient hospice, or an inpatient hospice facility. The risk of 30-day readmission was 4%.


Among advanced cancer patients, our findings suggest that an inpatient palliative care unit helps clarify goals of care, aids in appropriate hospice referrals, and decreases hospital readmissions.


IPCU; inpatient palliative care unit; intensive palliative care unit

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