Some time ago a colleague of mine in Ireland, Eugene Murray, then CEO of the Irish Hospice Foundation, raised the idea of whether it was possible to work out what proportion of people in hospital at any one time are in the last year of life. Knowing the figure, he argued, would assist in advocacy for those patients, raise awareness in clinicians and perhaps stimulate more effort to make appropriate care plans for people who might benefit.
Recently, we have been able to take this idea forward using techniques of record linkage (‘big data’ in the current jargon) that have enabled us to connect hospital records to death registrations for all the people in hospital in Scotland on a single day – 31 March 2010.
The full results of our study can be found at: Clark, D Armstrong, M Allan, A, Graham, F Carnon, A Isles, C. Imminence of death among hospital inpatients: a prevalent cohort study. Palliative Medicine March 2014, online first.
Read a discussion of the study by Prof David Clark, on the End of Life Studies Blog.