This is an updated version of a Cochrane review published in Issue 11, 2013 in the Cochrane Library. In many clinical areas, integrated care pathways are utilised as structured multidisciplinary care plans that detail essential steps in caring for patients with specific clinical problems. In particular, care pathways for the dying have been developed as a model to improve care of patients who are in the last days of life. The care pathways were designed with an aim of ensuring that the most appropriate management occurs at the most appropriate time, and that it is provided by the most appropriate health professional. Since the last update, there have been sustained concerns about the safety of implementing end-of-life care pathways, particularly in the United Kingdom (UK). Therefore, there is a significant need for clinicians and policy makers to be informed about the effects of end-of-life care pathways via a systematic review.
To assess the effects of end-of-life care pathways, compared with usual care (no pathway) or with care guided by another end-of-life care pathway across all healthcare settings (e.g. hospitals, residential aged care facilities, community).In particular, we aimed to assess the effects on symptom severity and quality of life of people who are dying, or those related to the care, such as families, carers and health professionals, or a combination of these.
We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL; Cochrane Library; 2015, Issue 6), MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, review articles, trial registries and reference lists of relevant articles. We conducted the original search in September 2009, and the second updated search in July 2015.
All randomised controlled trials (RCTs), quasi-randomised trials or high quality controlled before-and-after studies comparing use versus non-use of an end-of-life care pathway in caring for the dying.
Two review authors independently assessed the results of the searches against the predetermined criteria for inclusion, assessed risk of bias, and extracted data. We used standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane.
We screened 3028 titles, and included one Italian cluster RCT with 16 general medicine wards (inpatient units in hospitals) and 232 carers of cancer patients in this updated review. We judged the study to be at a high risk of bias overall, mainly due to a lack of blinding and rates of attrition. Only 34% of the participants (range 14% to 75% on individual wards) were cared for in accordance with the care pathway as planned. However, these issues were to be expected due to the nature of the intervention and condition. The study population was all cancer patients in their last days of life. Participants were allocated to care using the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP-I, Italian version of a continuous quality improvement programme of end-of-life care) or to standard care. The primary outcomes of this review were physical symptom severity, psychological symptom severity, quality of life, and any adverse effects. Physical symptom severity was assessed as overall control of pain, breathlessness, and nausea and vomiting. There was very low quality evidence of a difference in overall control of breathlessness that favoured the Liverpool Care Pathway group compared to usual care: the study reported an odds ratio (OR) of 2.0 with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) 1.1 to 3.8. Very low quality evidence of no difference was found for pain (OR 1.3, 95% CI 0.7 to 2.6, P = 0.461) and nausea and vomiting (OR 1.5, 95% CI 0.7 to 3.2, P = 0.252). None of the other primary outcomes were assessed by the study. Limited data on advance care planning were collected by the study authors, making results for this secondary outcome unreliable. None of our other secondary outcomes were assessed by the study.
There is limited available evidence concerning the clinical, physical, psychological or emotional effectiveness of end-of-life care pathways.