INTRODUCTION: Little is known about the characteristics of dying in different care settings, such as the hospital, the nursing home, or the home-care setting.
MATERIALS AND METHODS: We measured the burden of symptoms, medical and nursing interventions, and aspects of communication during the last 3 days of life within each of these settings. We included 239 of 321 patients (74%) who died in one of these settings in the southwest of The Netherlands, between November 2003 and February 2005. After the patient's death, a nurse filled in a questionnaire.
RESULTS: Pain and shortness of breath were more severe in hospital patients as compared to nursing home and home-care patients, whereas incontinence was less severe in hospital patients. Several medical interventions, such as a syringe driver, vena punctures or lab tests, radiology or ECG, antibiotics, and drainage of body fluids were more often applied during the last 3 days of life to hospital patients than to nursing home and home-care patients. This also holds for the measurement of body temperature and blood pressure. In the hospital setting, the patient and the family were more often informed about the imminence of death of the patient than elsewhere. The general practitioner and other professional caregivers were less often informed about the imminence of death of hospital patients than of other patients.
DISCUSSION: We conclude that pain and shortness of breath were more severe among hospital patients, whereas incontinence was more severe among nursing home and home-care patients. Hospital patients relatively often receive medical interventions and standard controls during the last 3 days of life. In hospital, communication about impending death seems to take place more often shortly before death.