Patients admitted to hospice care are not adequately assessed for nutritional status

Nutritional status and interventions in hospice: physician assessment of cancer patients

Flynn et al., JHND Early View images


Cancer cachexia is a multifactorial syndrome characterised by a progressive loss of skeletal muscle mass. It adversely influences quality of life, treatment response and survival. Early identification and multimodal interventions can potentially treat cancer cachexia. However, healthcare professionals demonstrate a lack of understanding and the ability to identify cancer cachexia early. The present study aimed to evaluate the assessment by physicians of nutritional status in cancer patients admitted to hospice.


A retrospective medical record review was conducted on all cancer admissions to a specialist in‐patient palliative care unit over a 4‐month period between October 2016 and January 2017. Charts were reviewed for evidence of documented nutritional assessment by physicians. Data were collected from the referral letter, admission notes, drug kardex and discharge letter. The information extracted included: (i) patient demographics and characteristics; (ii) terms used by physicians to describe nutritional status; (iii) any record of nutritional impact symptoms (NIS) experienced by the patient; and (iv) nutritional interventions prescribed.


One hundred and forty admissions were evaluated. Nutritional terminology and NIS were most commonly documented on the admission notes. Only 41% of documents recorded any nutritional term used by physicians to assess nutritional status. Furthermore, 71% of documents recorded at least one NIS experienced by the patient. Fatigue was the most frequent NIS.


We identified an inadequate nutritional assessment of cancer patients admitted to hospice. Implementation of a nutritional symptom checklist and nutrition screening tools, along with enhanced physician education and multidisciplinary nutrition care, could improve the identification and management of cancer cachexia in the palliative care setting.


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