Patient referrals to palliative care varies between oncologists. Researchers found that referrals and time to referral is relative to the age of the oncologist, a study published in The Oncologist has shown.

The researchers retrospectively evaluated data on patients who died of advanced thoracic malignancies at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center between January 1, 2007, and December 31, 2012. Based on the number of referrals, the researchers identified high-referring and a low-referring groups of oncologists.

Of the identified 1642 patients who died due to thoracic malignancy, 444 (27%) were referred to outpatient palliative care. Of 26 thoracic oncologists, the median proportion of referral was 30%. The high-referring oncologist group was significantly younger, with an average age of 45, compared with the low-referring oncologist group with an average age of 56. Younger oncologists were also more likely to refer patients without metastatic disease. The results remained significant even after adjusting for other predictors such as patient demographics.

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“The findings highlight the role of education to standardize palliative care access and imply that outpatient palliative care referral is likely to continue to increase with a shifting oncology workforce,” the authors reported.


Hui D, Kilgore K, Park M, et al. Pattern and predictors of outpatient palliative care referral among thoracic medical oncologists. Oncologist. 2018;23(10):1230-1235.