Objectives: The aim of this study is to describe healthcare utilisation in the last year of life for people in Australia, to help inform health services planning. The methods and datasets that are being used are described in this paper. Design/Setting: Linked, routinely collected administrative health data are being analysed for all people who died in New South Wales (NSW), Australia's most populous state, in 2007. The data comprised linked death records (2007), hospital admissions and emergency department presentations (2006-2007) and cancer registrations (1994-2007). Participants: There were 46 341 deaths in NSW in 2007. The initial analyses include 45 760 decedents aged 18 years and over. Outcome measures: The primary measures address the utilisation of hospital-based services at the end of life, including number and length of hospital admissions, emergency department presentations, intensive care admissions, palliative-related admissions and place of death. Results: The median age at death was 80 years. Cause of death was available for 95% of decedents and 85% were linked to a hospital admission record. In the greater metropolitan area, where data capture was complete, 83% of decedents were linked to an emergency department presentation. 38% of decedents were linked to a cancer diagnosis in 1994-2007. The most common causes of death were diseases of the circulatory system (34%) and neoplasms (29%). Conclusions: This study is among the first in Australia to give an information-rich census of end-of-life hospital-based experiences. While the administrative datasets have some limitations, these population-wide data can provide a foundation to enable further exploration of needs and barriers in relation to care. They also serve to inform the development of a relatively inexpensive, timely and reliable approach to the ongoing monitoring of acute hospital-based care utilisation near the end of life and inform whether service access and care are optimised.
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