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BACKGROUND: Medications are often needed to manage distressing end-of-life symptoms (eg, pain, agitation). OBJECTIVES: In 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. DESIGN: Retrospective cohort study using administrative health data. SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS: LTC decedents in all 626 publicly funded LTC homes in Ontario, Canada, between January 1, 2017, and March 17, 2020. METHODS: For 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. RESULTS: We 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 IMPLICATIONS: Across 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


J Am Med Dir Assoc

Publication Date





532 - 538.e8


Administrative health data, end-of-life, health system measures, long-term care, medications, nursing homes