Initiating Palliative Care Referrals in Pediatric Oncology

Andrea Cuviello, Jessica C. Raisanen, Pamela K. Donohue, Lori Wiener, Renee D. Boss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Context: Early palliative care (PC) has been shown to improve the quality of life of children with cancer, yet referral practices by pediatric oncology providers remains inconsistent and few patients receive a formal PC consult. Objectives: We sought to describe patient characteristics used by oncologists for PC referral and identify ways to improve PC integration into the care for children with cancer. Methods: This mixed-methods study used semistructured audiotaped interviews to explore the patient or disease characteristics used by pediatric oncology providers to trigger PC referral. Conventional content analysis was applied to interview transcripts. Results: About 77 participants with diverse experience were interviewed. More than 75% of participants reported that PC was consulted too late and cited communication and systems issues as the top barriers. Most participants (85%) stated that a screening tool would be helpful to standardize referral practices to PC. Characteristics such as poor prognosis (88%), symptom management (86%), comorbidities (65%), and psychosocial needs (65%) were commonly reported triggers that should initiate PC consultation. However, when presented with case scenarios that included these characteristics, participants did not consistently identify the PC triggers. Nearly 50% of participants stated they had received some formalized PC training; however, only one-third of these participants noted completing a PC rotation. Conclusion: Our findings suggest that pediatric oncologists are committed to improving the integration of PC for their patients and that standardization of referral practices, through the use of a screening tool, would be of benefit. Additional PC education might reinforce pediatric oncologists' recognition of PC triggers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)81-89.e1
JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • Palliative care
  • pediatric oncology
  • quality of life
  • screening tool
  • symptom management
  • trigger

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine
  • Nursing(all)


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