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Exploring the transition from curative care to palliative care: a systematic review of the literature

Abstract

Background UK policy guidance on treatment and care towards the end of life identifies a need to better recognise patients who are likely to be in the last 12 months of life. Health and social care professionals have a key role in initiating and managing a patient's transition from ‘curative care’ to palliative care. The aim of this paper is to provide a systematic review of evidence relating to the transition from curative care to palliative care within UK settings.

Method Four electronic databases were searched for studies published between 1975 and March 2010. Inclusion criteria were all UK studies relating to the transition from curative care to palliative care in adults over the age of 18. Selected studies were independently reviewed, data were extracted, quality was assessed and data were synthesised using a descriptive thematic approach.

Results Of the 1464 articles initially identified, 12 papers met the criteria for inclusion. Four themes emerged from the literature: (1) patient and carer experiences of transitions; (2) recognition and identification of the transition phase; (3) optimising and improving transitions; and (4) defining and conceptualising transitions.

Conclusions The literature suggests that little is known about the potentially complex transition to palliative care. Evidence suggests that continuity of care and multidisciplinary collaboration are crucial in order to improve the experience of patients making the transition. An important role is outlined for generalist providers of palliative care. Incorporating palliative care earlier in the disease trajectory and implementing a phased transition appear key components of optimum care.

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