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Hospitalisations for heart failure: increased palliative care referrals − a veterans affairs hospital initiative


Objectives Heart failure (HF) portends significant morbidity and mortality. Integrating palliative care (PC) with HF management improves quality of life and preparedness planning. At a Veterans Affairs hospital, PC was used in 6.5% of patients admitted for HF from October 2019 to September 2020. We sought to increase the percentage of referrals to PC to 20%.

Methods PC referral guidelines were developed and used to screen all HF admissions between October 2020 and May 2021. Point-of-care education on the benefits of PC was delivered to teams caring for patients who met PC referral criteria. Changes were tested using Plan–Do–Study–Act (PDSA) cycles. Results were analysed using run charts.

Results During the study period, there were 109 HF admissions in patients who were not already followed by PC. Thirty-one (28%) received a new PC consult. The mean age was 81±9.5 years, median B-type natriuretic peptide was 1202 pg/mL, and mean length of stay was 8±5 days. After our intervention, there was an upward shift in the percentage of new referrals to PC with 6 values above the baseline median, which represents a significant change.

Conclusions Through multiple PDSA cycles, referrals to PC for patients admitted with HF increased from 6.5% to 28%. Point-of-care education was an effective tool to teach medical teams about the benefits of PC. Inpatient teams more consistently and independently considered PC for patients with HF, representing a cultural shift. This quality improvement model may serve as a paradigm to improve the care of HF patients.

  • Quality of life
  • Chronic conditions
  • Education and training
  • Heart failure
  • Hospital care

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