Introduction: With an increasing proportion of patients in need of end-of-life (EOL) care presenting to the emergency department (ED), many of these patients may benefit from early palliative care (PC) referral. In fact, early PC referral is one of the Choosing Wisely ED recommendations in the USA. As such, there is a potential benefit to identifying patients with advanced or end-stage illness with PC needs. The objective of this systematic review is to identify and synthesize the available evidence regarding the existence and psychometric properties of screening tools to identify patients with advanced or end-stage illness and PC needs presenting to EDs. Methods: A comprehensive search of eight electronic databases and the grey literature was conducted. Studies assessing the ability of a screening instrument to identify ED patients with advanced or end-stage illness in need of PC were eligible for inclusion. Two independent reviewers completed study selection, quality assessment, and data extraction. Disagreements were resolved through third-party adjudication. Due to the significant heterogeneity, as well as inconsistent outcome reporting, a descriptive summary of the results was completed. Results: Once duplicates were removed, the title and abstracts of 3516 studies were screened, of which, 15 studies were included. Overall, 10 unique screening instruments were assessed across the studies. The most commonly assessed screening tool was the use of the modified surprise question (SQ), in which physicians were asked if they would be surprised if the patient died within a specified period of time. Only four of the included studies assessed the diagnostic or psychometric properties of the screening tools. One study reported that the modified SQ predicted PC consultation with 35% sensitivity, 89% specificity, and a negative predictive value of 97%. The proportion of patients identified with PC needs ranged from 12% to 73%, with studies utilizing the SQ reporting a range of 12% to 33%. Conclusion: A variety of screening tools are available to identify ED patients with advanced or end-stage illness who would benefit from a referral for PC. While the modified SQ was the most common instrument assessed and appears to be simple to implement, it is unclear if the diagnostic and psychometric properties of this tool are sufficiently robust to warrant widespread implementation.
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