Supportive Care in Cancer

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 295–301 | Cite as

Examination of referral criteria for outpatient palliative care among patients with advanced cancer

  • David HuiEmail author
  • Laurie Anderson
  • Michael Tang
  • Minjeong Park
  • Diane Liu
  • Eduardo Bruera
Original Article



An international panel achieved consensus on 9 need-based and 2 time-based major referral criteria to identify patients appropriate for outpatient palliative care referral. To better understand the operational characteristics of these criteria, we examined the proportion and timing of patients who met these referral criteria at our Supportive Care Clinic.


We retrieved data on consecutive patients with advanced cancer who were referred to our Supportive Care Clinic between January 1, 2016, and February 18, 2016. We examined the proportion of patients who met each major criteria and its timing.


Among 200 patients (mean age 60, 53% female), the median overall survival from outpatient palliative care referral was 14 (95% confidence interval 9.2, 17.5) months. A majority (n = 170, 85%) of patients met at least 1 major criteria; specifically, 28%, 30%, 20%, and 8% met 1, 2, 3, and ≥ 4 criteria, respectively. The most commonly met need-based criteria were severe physical symptoms (n = 140, 70%), emotional symptoms (n = 36, 18%), decision-making needs (n = 26, 13%), and brain/leptomeningeal metastases (n = 25, 13%). For time-based criteria, 54 (27%) were referred within 3 months of diagnosis of advanced cancer and 63 (32%) after progression from ≥ 2 lines of palliative systemic therapy. The median duration from patient first meeting any criterion to palliative care referral was 2.4 (interquartile range 0.1, 8.6) months.


Patients were referred early to our palliative care clinic and a vast majority (85%) of them met at least one major criteria. Standardized referral based on these criteria may facilitate even earlier referral.


Ambulatory care Outcome and process assessment (health care) Neoplasms Referral and consultation Palliative care Selection criteria 


Funding information

DH is supported in part by National Institutes of Health Grants (1R01CA214960-01A1, 1R01CA225701-01A1, R21NR016736). DH is also supported by an American Cancer Society Mentored Research Scholar Grant in Applied and Clinical Research (MRSG-14-1418-01-CCE).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Palliative Care, Rehabilitation and Integrative MedicineThe University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer CenterHoustonUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiostatisticsThe University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer CenterHoustonUSA

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