Delay in commencement of palliative care service episodes provided to Indigenous and non-Indigenous patients: Cross-sectional analysis of an Australian multi-jurisdictional dataset

John A. Woods, Claire E. Johnson, Hanh T. Ngo, Judith M. Katzenellenbogen, Kevin Murray, Sandra C. Thompson

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Background: Rapid effective responsiveness to patient needs is pivotal to high quality palliative care. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Indigenous) people are susceptible to life-limiting illnesses at younger ages than other Australians and experience inequity of health service provision. The Palliative Care Outcomes Collaboration collects Australia-wide health service data on patient care, and has established performance benchmarks for specialist palliative care services. We investigated whether the benchmark for timely commencement of palliative care episodes (occurrence of delay >1 day after being designated 'ready for care' in <10% instances) is being met for Indigenous Australians in participating services. Additionally, we investigated the association between identification as Indigenous and delay. Methods: Using multi-jurisdictional Palliative Care Outcomes Collaboration data, this cross-sectional analytical study investigated all episodes of care (n = 84,238) provided to patients ≥18 years (n = 61,073: Indigenous n = 645) in hospital and community settings commenced and completed during the period 01/07/2013-30/06/2015. Proportions of episodes resulting in delay were determined. Crude and adjusted odds of delay among Indigenous compared with non-Indigenous patients were investigated using multiple logistic regression, with missing data handled by multiple imputation. Results: The benchmark was met for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous patients (delay in 8.3 and 8.4% episodes respectively). However, the likelihood of delay was modestly higher in episodes provided to Indigenous than non-Indigenous patients (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 1.41; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.07-1.86). Excess delay among Indigenous patients was accentuated in first episodes (aOR, 1.53; 95% CI 1.14-2.06), in patients aged < 65 years (aOR, 1.66; 95% CI 1.14-2.41), and among those residing in Inner Regional areas (aOR, 1.97; 95% CI 1.19-3.28), and also approached significance among those in outer regional, remote and very remote areas collectively (aOR, 1.72; CI 0.97-3.05). Conclusions: Although the timeliness benchmark is being met for Indigenous Australians in palliative care, they may experience delayed initiation of care episodes, particularly if younger, and especially at first encounter with a service. Qualitative research is required to explore determinants of delay in initiating palliative care episodes. The timeliness of initial referral for specialist palliative care in this population remains to be determined.

Original languageEnglish
Article number130
Number of pages11
JournalBMC Palliative Care
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22 Dec 2018


  • Aboriginal
  • Cross-sectional studies
  • End-of-life care
  • Episode of care
  • Health services research
  • Healthcare disparities
  • Oceanic ancestry group
  • Palliative care
  • Time-to-treatment

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