Health Services Research & Development

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Reinke LF, Vig EK, Tartaglione EV, Rise P, Au DH. Symptom Burden and Palliative Care Needs Among High-Risk Veterans With Multimorbidity. Journal of pain and symptom management. 2019 May 1; 57(5):880-889.
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Abstract: CONTEXT: Palliative care research has focused on patients with disease-specific conditions. However, older patients with multimorbidity may have unmet palliative care needs. OBJECTIVES: We assessed symptom burden and quality of life among veterans with multimorbidity and sought to determine if their bothersome symptoms were addressed and treated in the primary care setting. We sought to identify specific diagnoses that may account for greater symptom burden. We hypothesized that patients with a higher number of diagnoses would experience greater symptom burden and poorer quality of life. METHODS: We identified veterans at high risk of hospitalization or death using a validated prognostic model. We administered cross-sectional surveys via telephone, The Memorial Symptom Assessment Scale-Short Form and Veterans RAND 12, to randomly selected patients in primary care in the VA Health Care System from May to December 2015. We assessed if their most bothersome symptom was addressed and treated during their most recent visit. Regression models identified specific diagnoses accounting for greater symptom burden and patient predictors of high symptom burden and poor quality of life. RESULTS: Patients (n = 503) reported (10.6 ± 5.5) active symptoms and poor physical quality of life. Patients reported pain and dyspnea as their most bothersome symptoms (n = 145 [29%] and n = 57 [11%], respectively). Most patients acknowledged their clinicians assessed (n = 348 [74%]) and treated (n = 330 [70%]) their most bothersome symptom. Physical symptoms (78%, P < 0.0001) were more likely to be addressed than psychological symptoms (55%, P < 0.001). Patients diagnosed with obesity or depression experienced greater physical symptom burden. Younger patients reported greater symptom severity than older patients (P < 0.01). Younger patients and those with greater multimorbidities reported lower self-perceived quality of health than older patients and those with fewer multimorbidities (P = 0.01 and P < 0.01, respectively). CONCLUSION: Outpatients with multimorbidity have high symptom burden, unaddressed symptoms, poor quality of life, and unmet palliative care needs. Our findings support standardization of comprehensive symptom assessment and management in primary care for veterans with multimorbidities, which may ameliorate symptoms and improve quality of life.