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BackgroundMedications are often needed to manage distressing end-of-life symptoms (eg, pain, agitation).ObjectivesIn this study, we describe the variation in prescribing rates of symptom relief medications at the end of life among long-term care (LTC) decedents. We evaluate the extent these medications are prescribed in LTC homes and whether prescribing rates of end-of-life symptom management can be used as an indicator of quality end-of-life care.DesignRetrospective cohort study using administrative health data.Setting and participantsLTC decedents in all 626 publicly funded LTC homes in Ontario, Canada, between January 1, 2017, and March 17, 2020.MethodsFor each LTC home, we measured the percent of decedents who received 1+ prescription(s) for a subcutaneous end-of-life symptom management medication ("end-of-life medication") in their last 14 days of life. We then ranked LTC homes into quintiles based on prescribing rates.ResultsWe identified 55,916 LTC residents who died in LTC. On average, two-thirds of decedents (64.7%) in LTC homes were prescribed at least 1 subcutaneous end-of-life medication in the last 2 weeks of life. Opioids were the most common prescribed medication (overall average prescribing rate of 62.7%). LTC homes in the lowest prescribing quintile had a mean of 37.3% of decedents prescribed an end-of-life medication, and the highest quintile mean was 82.5%. In addition, across these quintiles, the lowest prescribing quintile had a high average (30.3%) of LTC residents transferred out of LTC in the 14 days compared with the highest prescribing quintile (12.7%).Conclusions and implicationsAcross Ontario's LTC homes, there are large differences in prescribing rates for subcutaneous end-of-life symptom relief medications. Although future work may elucidate why the variability exists, this study provides evidence that administrative data can provide valuable insight into the systemic delivery of end-of-life care.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of the American Medical Directors Association

Publication Date





532 - 538.e8


Department of Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; Clinical Epidemiology Program, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; Bruyère Research Institute, Bruyère Continuing Care, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Electronic address: