CONTEXT: Although the acute hospital setting is not considered to be an ideal place of death, many people are admitted to hospital at the end of life.
OBJECTIVES: The present study aims to examine the reasons for hospital admissions that result in an expected death and the factors that play a role in the decision to admit to hospital.
METHODS: This was a survey among family physicians (FPs) about those of their patients who had died nonsuddenly in an acute university hospital setting in Belgium between January and August 2014. Questions were asked about the patient's health situation, care that the patient received before the admission, the circumstances of the hospital admission, the reasons necessitating the admission, and other factors that had played a role in the decision to admit the patient to hospital.
RESULTS: We received 245 completed questionnaires (response rate 70%), and 77% of those hospital deaths were considered to be nonsudden. FPs indicated that 55% of end-of-life hospitalizations were for palliative reasons and 26% curative or life-prolonging. Factors such as the patient feeling safer in hospital (35%) or family believing care to be better in hospital (54%) frequently played a role in the end-of-life hospitalization. When patients were admitted with a limited anticipated life expectancy, FPs were more likely to indicate that an inadequate caring capacity of the care setting had played a role in the admission.
CONCLUSION: To reduce the number of hospital deaths, a combination of structural support for out-of-hospital end-of-life care and a more timely referral to out-of-hospital palliative care services may be needed.