Toward improved goals-of-care documentation in advanced cancer: report on the development of a quality improvement initiative

I. Harle, S. Karim, W. Raskin, W.M. Hopman, C.M. Booth



Documentation of advance care planning for patients with terminal cancer is known to be poor. Here, we describe a quality improvement initiative.


Patients receiving palliative chemotherapy for metastatic lung, pancreatic, colorectal, and breast cancer during 2010–2015 at the Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario were identified from electronic pharmacy records.

Clinical notes were reviewed to identify documentation of care plans in the event of acute deterioration. After establishing baseline practice, we sought to improve documentation of goals of care and referral rates to palliative care. Using quality improvement methodology, we developed a guideline, a standardized documentation system, and a process to facilitate early referral to palliative care.


During 2010–2015, 456 patients were included in the baseline cohort: 63% with lung cancer, 16% with colorectal cancer, 13% with pancreatic cancer, and 7% with breast cancer. Care goals in the event of an acute illness were documented by medical oncologists in 6% of cases (26 of 456). Of the 456 patients, 47% (n = 214) were seen by palliative care; care goals were documented by palliative care in 48% of the patients seen (103 of 214). With those baseline data in hand, a local practice guideline and process was developed to facilitate the identification of patients for whom advance care planning and early palliative care referral should be considered. A system was also established so that goals-of-care documentation will be supported with a written framework and broadly accessible in the electronic medical record.


Low rates of documentation of advance care planning and referral to palliative care persist and have stimulated a local quality improvement initiative.


Medical oncology; palliative care; goals of care

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ISSN: 1198-0052 (Print) ISSN: 1718-7729 (Online)