Intervention to Improve Care at Life’s End in Inpatient Settings: The BEACON Trial

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Abstract

Background

Widespread implementation of palliative care treatment plans could reduce suffering in the last days of life by adopting best practices of traditionally home-based hospice care in inpatient settings.

Objective

To evaluate the effectiveness of a multi-modal intervention strategy to improve processes of end-of-life care in inpatient settings.

Design

Implementation trial with an intervention staggered across hospitals using a multiple-baseline, stepped wedge design.

Participants

Six Veterans Affairs Medical Centers (VAMCs).

Intervention

Staff training was targeted to all hospital providers and focused on identifying actively dying patients and implementing best practices from home-based hospice care, supported with an electronic order set and paper-based educational tools.

Main Measures

Several processes of care were identified as quality endpoints for end-of-life care (last 7 days) and abstracted from electronic medical records of veterans who died before or after intervention (n = 6,066). Primary endpoints were proportion with an order for opioid pain medication at time of death, do-not-resuscitate order, location of death, nasogastric tube, intravenous line infusing, and physical restraints. Secondary endpoints were administration of opioids, order/administration of antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, and scopolamine (for death rattle); sublingual administration; advance directives; palliative care consultations; and pastoral care services. Generalized estimating equations were conducted adjusting for longitudinal trends.

Key Results

Significant intervention effects were observed for orders for opioid pain medication (OR: 1.39), antipsychotic medications (OR: 1.98), benzodiazepines (OR: 1.39), death rattle medications (OR: 2.77), sublingual administration (OR: 4.12), nasogastric tubes (OR: 0.71), and advance directives (OR: 1.47). Intervention effects were not significant for location of death, do-not-resuscitate orders, intravenous lines, or restraints.

Conclusions

This broadly targeted intervention strategy led to modest but statistically significant changes in several processes of care, indicating its potential for widespread dissemination to improve end-of-life care for thousands of patients who die each year in inpatient settings.