Socioeconomic Status, Palliative Care, and Death at Home Among Patients With Cancer Before and During COVID-19 Journal Articles uri icon

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  • ImportanceThe COVID-19 pandemic had a profound impact on the delivery of cancer care, but less is known about its association with place of death and delivery of specialized palliative care (SPC) and potential disparities in these outcomes.ObjectiveTo evaluate the association of the COVID-19 pandemic with death at home and SPC delivery at the end of life and to examine whether disparities in socioeconomic status exist for these outcomes.Design, Setting, and ParticipantsIn this cohort study, an interrupted time series analysis was conducted using Ontario Cancer Registry data comprising adult patients aged 18 years or older who died with cancer between the pre–COVID-19 (March 16, 2015, to March 15, 2020) and COVID-19 (March 16, 2020, to March 15, 2021) periods. The data analysis was performed between March and November 2023.ExposureCOVID-19–related hospital restrictions starting March 16, 2020.Main Outcomes and MeasuresOutcomes were death at home and SPC delivery at the end of life (last 30 days before death). Socioeconomic status was measured using Ontario Marginalization Index area-based material deprivation quintiles, with quintile 1 (Q1) indicating the least deprivation; Q3, intermediate deprivation; and Q5, the most deprivation. Segmented linear regression was used to estimate monthly trends in outcomes before, at the start of, and in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.ResultsOf 173 915 patients in the study cohort (mean [SD] age, 72.1 [12.5] years; males, 54.1% [95% CI, 53.8%-54.3%]), 83.7% (95% CI, 83.6%-83.9%) died in the pre–COVID-19 period and 16.3% (95% CI, 16.1%-16.4%) died in the COVID-19 period, 54.5% (95% CI, 54.2%-54.7%) died at home during the entire study period, and 57.8% (95% CI, 57.5%-58.0%) received SPC at the end of life. In March 2020, home deaths increased by 8.3% (95% CI, 7.4%-9.1%); however, this increase was less marked in Q5 (6.1%; 95% CI, 4.4%-7.8%) than in Q1 (11.4%; 95% CI, 9.6%-13.2%) and Q3 (10.0%; 95% CI, 9.0%-11.1%). There was a simultaneous decrease of 5.3% (95% CI, −6.3% to –4.4%) in the rate of SPC at the end of life, with no significant difference among quintiles. Patients who received SPC at the end of life (vs no SPC) were more likely to die at home before and during the pandemic. However, there was a larger immediate increase in home deaths among those who received no SPC at the end of life vs those who received SPC (Q1, 17.5% [95% CI, 15.2%-19.8%] vs 7.6% [95% CI, 5.4%-9.7%]; Q3, 12.7% [95% CI, 10.8%-14.5%] vs 9.0% [95% CI, 7.2%-10.7%]). For Q5, the increase in home deaths was significant only for patients who did not receive SPC (13.9% [95% CI, 11.9%-15.8%] vs 1.2% [95% CI, −1.0% to 3.5%]).Conclusions and RelevanceThese findings suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with amplified socioeconomic disparities in death at home and SPC delivery at the end of life. Future research should focus on the mechanisms of these disparities and on developing interventions to ensure equitable and consistent SPC access.


  • Iqbal, Javaid
  • Moineddin, Rahim
  • Fowler, Robert A
  • Krzyzanowska, Monika K
  • Booth, Christopher M
  • Downar, James
  • Lau, Jenny
  • Le, Lisa W
  • Rodin, Gary
  • Seow, Hsien
  • Tanuseputro, Peter
  • Earle, Craig C
  • Quinn, Kieran L
  • Hannon, Breffni
  • Zimmermann, Camilla

publication date

  • February 5, 2024