Background Social support is a necessary resource for good quality of life, particularly for individuals managing the psychological challenges of living with a life-limiting illness. Qualitative evidence describes social support obtained during palliative care interventions as valuable to the patient and beneficial to their wellbeing. Improving the quantitative evidence base is necessary to develop the application of economic evaluation in palliative care.
Aim(s) This systematic review aims to summarise existing quantitative evidence on the effectiveness (and cost-effectiveness) of interventions offering social support to individuals with life-limiting illness.
Method Research literature was identified through searching of electronic databases, reference picking and hand searches of key journals. Searches returned a total of 6247 unique titles of which sixteen were eligible for inclusion in this review.
Results Identified interventions included group therapies, group multidisciplinary interventions, and palliative day care. Outcome measures and study designs were heterogeneous. There was very limited use of economic evaluation. Statistically significant results were reported in areas including quality of life, mood disturbance, pain experience and symptom control. Benefits were frequently short term or influenced by participant characteristics (age, gender, baseline distress). Methodological limitations included attrition rates, insensitivity of outcome measures, and difficulties in capturing a true baseline.
Conclusions Although benefits in both psychological and physical domains were identified from palliative care interventions that include an element of social support, methodological problems and a scarcity of research has resulted in limited evidence of sustained benefit or cost-effectiveness. Existing evidence suggests that social support interventions may be more beneficial to some groups of patients than others.
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