Latest Australian Research

The following lists palliative care research primarily conducted by Australian research groups. The list is based on application of the CareSearch search filter for palliative care to identify articles held within the PubMed database and corresponding to the strongest evidence. Articles have been selected based on relevance and new articles are added on a weekly basis.

Whilst not an exhaustive list, the aim is to keep the community informed by providing a snapshot of recent research findings and planned studies in the Australian setting.

 

22 February 2021

Palliative radiotherapy for bone metastases at the end of life in Victoria

Ong WL, Foroudi F, Milne RL, Millar JL.

No abstract available

22 February 2021

End of life in hospitalised prisoners: a group comparison of palliative medicine and hospital use

Panozzo S, Bryan T, Marco D, Collins A, Lethborg C, Philip J.

Background:
Providing optimal palliative and end-of-life care for people in prison with advanced progressive disease is a growing challenge. This study aimed to examine hospital and palliative care utilisation for people in prison who are hospitalised during the final 3 months of life and to compare with a disease-matched non-incarcerated patient cohort.

Methods:
A retrospective cohort study of people in prison who died between 2009 and 2019 in an Australian public hospital that provides tertiary-level healthcare for 18% of Australia's prison population. Demographic, clinical and service use data were extracted from medical records of eligible patients experiencing incarceration (prison group) and a disease-matched, non-incarcerated patient comparator group (comparator group).

Results:
At the time of death, patients in the prison group were aged a median of 20 years younger than the comparator group (median age 58 vs 78 years, p<0.01). The prison group experienced more than double the mean length of acute care hospital stay at the end of life. A higher proportion of patients in the prison group experienced an intensive care unit episode (22% vs 12%). More than two-thirds (71%) of the prison group patients were seen by palliative care prior to death, similar to the comparator group (p=0.44). Those transferred to the palliative care unit had a shorter length of stay and were admitted later, just prior to death (median 5 vs 8 days).

Conclusions:
People in prison have prolonged acute care public hospital stays and are more likely to experience escalation of care at the end of life. Future opportunity may exist for increased access to formal subacute care settings for people in prison with life-limiting illness to receive optimal palliative and end-of-life care.

22 February 2021

Comparing functional decline and distress from symptoms in people with thoracic life-limiting illnesses: lung cancers and non-malignant end-stage respiratory diseases

Barnes-Harris M, Allingham S, Morgan D, Ferreira D, Johnson MJ, Eagar K, Currow D.

Background:
Malignant and non-malignant respiratory diseases account for >4.6 million deaths annually worldwide. Despite similar symptom burdens, serious inequities in access to palliative care persists for people with non-malignant respiratory diseases.

Aim:
To compare functional decline and symptom distress in advanced malignant and non-malignant lung diseases using consecutive, routinely collected, point-of-care national data.

Setting/participants:
The Australian national Palliative Care Outcomes Collaboration collects functional status (Australia-modified Karnofsky Performance Status (AKPS)) and symptom distress (patient-reported 0-10 numerical rating scale) in inpatient and community settings. Five years of data used Joinpoint and weighted scatterplot smoothing.

Results:
In lung cancers (89 904 observations; 18 586 patients) and non-malignant end-stage respiratory diseases (14 827 observations; 4279 patients), age at death was significantly lower in people with lung cancer (73 years; IQR 65-81) than non-malignant end-stage respiratory diseases (81 years; IQR 73-87 years; p<0.001). Four months before death, median AKPS was 40 in lung cancers and 30 in non-malignant end-stage respiratory diseases (p<0.001). Functional decline was similar in the two groups and accelerated in the last month of life. People with non-malignant diseases accessed palliative care later.Pain-related distress was greater with cancer and breathing-related distress with non-malignant disease. Breathing-related distress increased towards death in malignant, but decreased in non-malignant disease. Distress from fatigue and poor sleep were similar for both.

Conclusions:
In this large dataset unlike previous datasets, the pattern of functional decline was similar as was overall symptom burden. Timely access to palliative care should be based on needs not diagnoses.

22 February 2021

Dexmedetomidine for hyperactive delirium at the end of life: An open-label single arm pilot study with dose escalation in adult patients admitted to an inpatient palliative care unit

Thomas B, Lo WA, Nangati Z, Barclay G.

Background:
Terminal delirium, specifically the hyperactive delirium subtype at the end of life, is common in palliative care patients. Standard care often involves sedation to alleviate distress. The alpha2-adrenoreceptor agonist dexmedetomidine may have promise in terminal delirium, due to its properties of decreasing delirium and permitting rousable sedation.

Aim:
This study aimed to describe the effect of dexmedetomidine on delirium and sedation, when delivered via continuous subcutaneous infusion (CSCI) in patients with terminal delirium.

Design:
The trial was prospectively registered in the ANZCTR database (ACTRN12618000658213) and conducted in accordance with CONSORT (pilot study extension). Twenty-two adult patients were treated with a CSCI of dexmedetomidine with a two-tier dose schedule, low and high dose. Delirium severity was measured by the Memorial Delirium Assessment Scale (MDAS, target <13), and sedation by the Richmond Agitation-Sedation Scale, Palliative Version (RASS-PAL, target -1 to -3).

Results:
All patients had a response to dexmedetomidine as measured by decrease in MDAS after initiation; 59% required escalation to high dose to maintain control of delirium. All responses to high dose were sustained. RASS-PAL scores showed significant variability, however mean scores remained within target range on both doses, and the majority of patients were rousable. Fifty percent of patients treated crossed over to standard care; no patients who crossed over were experiencing moderate-severe delirium. Predominant reason for crossover was family request for deeper sedation.

Conclusion:
Dexmedetomidine shows potential for the management of terminal delirium with improved interactivity. Further research is needed to determine efficacy compared to current standard care.

15 February 2021

Palliative Care Home Support Packages (PEACH): a carer cross-sectional survey

Chow JSF, Barclay G, Harlum J, Swierczynski J, Jobburn K, Agar M; PEACH Program; PEACH Program Inter-District Executive Management Group. 

Background:
In December 2013, a partnership between five local health districts and a non-governmental organisation implemented the Palliative Care Home Support Packages (PEACH) Program. The PEACH Program aims to support palliative care clients in their last days of life at their own home. This study sought to evaluate the quality of care delivered by the service from the perspective of clients' primary carers.

Methods:
A letter was sent to carers of clients 6-10 weeks after the client's death, inviting them to participate in an anonymous survey. The survey measured the level of satisfaction on various aspects of the service using FAMCARE and Likert scales, and invited for comments about the care received and suggestions for improvement.

Results:
Out of 17 aspects of care provided by the PEACH Program, 13 were scored with 'exceptional' or 'acceptable performance'. The highest satisfaction was observed in meeting clients' physical needs and providing pain relief. The most dissatisfaction was observed in addressing spiritual matters, family conferences and information about treatment side effects. Ninety-five per cent of responses were either 'satisfied' or 'very satisfied' with the overall care provided at home during the last week of the client's life.

Conclusion:
The results of this research provide further evidence to the field of what constitutes a good home death and the support mechanisms required to enable this. The results also have strong implications on how local services provided by the PEACH Program are delivered in the future.

15 February 2021

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and advance care planning: A synthesis of qualitative literature on patients' experiences

Ora L, Mannix J, Morgan L, Gregory L, Luck L, Wilkes L.

Objective:
Advance Care Planning supports patients to share their personal values, goals, and preferences for future medical care with their family members and healthcare professionals. The aim of this review was to uncover what is known about patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and their experiences with Advance Care Planning.

Methods:
A systematic review and thematic synthesis of qualitative studies was undertaken. Five databases were searched for qualitative articles published between 2009-2019. The review was guided by the PRISMA framework and seven studies met the eligibility criteria. Thematic synthesis of descriptive themes in each article was undertaken to develop overarching analytical themes, related to the experience of patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Advance Care Planning.

Results:
Four analytical themes emerged from the review of the articles that met the inclusion criteria: patient readiness and willingness for Advance Care Planning discussions; considering the future; trusted relationships with healthcare professionals; and shared decision making.

Discussion:
Patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease are generally open to Advance Care Planning discussions with healthcare professionals who are well-informed, and trusted by the patient. Models of care that integrate Advance Care Planning are beneficial in other non-malignant settings, and may be a way forward to support Advance Care Planning as part of routine care for patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

4 February 2021

A randomised, double blind, placebo-controlled trial of megestrol acetate or dexamethasone in treating symptomatic anorexia in people with advanced cancer

Currow DC, Glare P, Louw S, Martin P, Clark K, Fazekas B, Agar MR.

This multi-site, double blind, parallel arm, fixed dose, randomised placebo controlled phase III study compared megestrol acetate 480 mg/day with dexamethasone 4 mg/day for their net effects on appetite in people with cancer anorexia. Patients with advanced cancer and anorexia for ≥ 2 weeks with a score ≤ 4 (0-10 numeric rating scale (NRS) 0 = no appetite, 10 = best possible appetite) were recruited. Participants received megestrol 480 mg or dexamethasone 4 mg or placebo daily for up to 4 weeks. Primary outcomes were at day 7. Responders were defined as having a ≥ 25% improvement in NRS over baseline. There were 190 people randomised (megestrol acetate n = 61; dexamethasone n = 67, placebo n = 62). At week 1 (primary endpoint), 79.3% in the megestrol group, 65.5% in the dexamethasone group and 58.5% in the placebo group (p = 0.067) were responders. No differences in performance status or quality of life were reported. Treatment emergent adverse events were frequent (90.4% of participants), and included altered mood and insomnia. Hyperglycemia and deep vein thromboses were more frequent when on dexamethasone than the other two arms. There was no difference in groups between the three arms, with no benefit seen over placebo with anorexia improving in all arms.

1 February 2021

Practice review: Evidence-based quality use of corticosteroids in the palliative care of patients with advanced cancer

Hardy J, Haywood A, Rickett K, Sallnow L, Good P. 

Background:
It would be unusual for a patient with advanced cancer not to be prescribed corticosteroids at some stage of their disease course for a variety of specific and non-specific indications.

Aim:
The aim of this practice review was to provide a pragmatic overview of the evidence supporting current practice and to identify areas in which further research is indicated.

Design:
A 'state-of-the-art' review approach was used to examine the evidence supporting the use of corticosteroids for the management of cancer-related complications and in symptom control, in the context of known risks and harms to inform quality use of this medicine. We developed 'Do', 'Do not', and 'Don't know' recommendations based on current literature and identified areas for future investigation and research.

Data sources:
We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE and the Cochrane library from inception to 14th October 2020. Our initial search limited to reviews, reviews of reviews, randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and controlled trials was supplemented by supporting literature as appropriate.

Results:
Evidence to support common practice in the use of corticosteroids is lacking for most indications. This is in the context of strong evidence for the potential for significant toxicity and poor quality use of medicine.

Conclusion:
Guidelines recommending the widespread use of corticosteroids should acknowledge the poor evidence base supporting much current dogma. Quality research is essential not only to define the role of corticosteroids in this context but to ensure good prescribing practice.

1 February 2021

Quality of online self-management resources for adults living with primary brain cancer, and their carers: a systematic environmental scan

Schaefer I, Heneka N, Luckett T, Agar MR, Chambers SK, Currow DC, Halkett G, Disalvo D, Amgarth-Duff I, Anderiesz C, Phillips JL.

Background:
A primary brain cancer diagnosis is a distressing, life changing event. It adversely affects the quality of life for the person living with brain cancer and their families ('carers'). Timely access to evidence-based information is critical to enabling people living with brain cancer, and their carers, to self-manage the devastating impacts of this disease.

Method:
A systematic environmental scan of web-based resources. A depersonalised search for online English-language resources published from 2009 to December 2019 and designed for adults (> 25 years of age), living with primary brain cancer, was undertaken using the Google search engine. The online information was classified according to: 1) the step on the cancer care continuum; 2) self-management domains (PRISMS taxonomy); 3) basic information disclosure (Silberg criteria); 4) independent quality verification (HonCode); 5) reliability of disease and treatment information (DISCERN Sections 1 and 2); and readability (Flesch-Kincaid reading grade).

Results:
A total of 119 online resources were identified, most originating in England (n = 49); Australia (n = 27); or the USA (n = 27). The majority of resources related to active treatment (n = 76), without addressing recurrence (n = 3), survivorship (n = 1) or palliative care needs (n = 13). Few online resources directly provided self-management advice for adults living with brain cancer or their carers. Just over a fifth (n = 26, 22%) were underpinned by verifiable evidence. Only one quarter of organisations producing resources were HonCode certified (n = 9, 24%). The median resource reliability as measured by Section 1, DISCERN tool, was 56%. A median of 8.8 years of education was required to understand these online resources.

Conclusions:
More targeted online information is needed to provide people affected by brain cancer with practical self-management advice. Resources need to better address patient and carer needs related to: rehabilitation, managing behavioural changes, survivorship and living with uncertainty; recurrence; and transition to palliative care. Developing online resources that don't require a high level of literacy and/or cognition are also required.

1 February 2021

Evaluating a multidimensional strategy to improve the professional self-care of occupational therapists working with people with life limiting illness

Apostol C, Cranwell K, Hitch D.

Background:
The term 'life limiting conditions' refers to premature death following decline from chronic conditions, which is a common circumstance in which occupational therapists work with people at the end of life. The challenges for clinicians of working with these patients have long been recognised, and may have a significant impact on their professional self-care. This study aimed to evaluate a multidimensional workplace strategy to improve the professional self-care of occupational therapists working with people living with a life limiting condition.

Methods:
A pre and post mixed methods survey approach were utilised, with baseline data collection prior to the implementation of a multidimensional workplace strategy. The strategy included professional resilience education, targeted supervision prompts, changes to departmental culture and the promotion of self-care services across multiple organisational levels. Follow up data collection was undertaken after the strategy had been in place for 2 years. Quantitative data were analysed descriptively, while qualitative data were subjected to thematic analysis.

Results:
One hundred three occupational therapists responded (n = 55 pre, n = 48 post) across multiple service settings. Complex emotional responses and lived experiences were identified by participants working with patients with life limiting conditions, which were not influenced by the workplace strategy. Working with these patients was acknowledged to challenge the traditional focus of occupational therapy on rehabilitation and recovery. Participants were confident about their ability to access self-care support, and supervision emerged as a key medium. While the strategy increased the proportion of occupational therapists undertaking targeted training, around half identified ongoing unmet need around professional self-care with this patient group. Demographic factors (e.g. practice setting, years of experience) also had a significant impact on the experience and needs of participants.

Conclusions:
The multidimensional workplace strategy resulted in some improvements in professional self-care for occupational therapists, particularly around their use of supervision and awareness of available support resources. However, it did not impact upon their lived experience of working with people with life limiting conditions, and there remain significant gaps in our knowledge of support strategies for self-care of occupational therapist working with this patient group.

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