BACKGROUND: It can be difficult to identify when a palliative care approach should be started both in malignant, and particularly, in non-malignant disease, ideally to run alongside disease-modifying care. A structured method or tool may be useful to help general practitioners (GPs) identify patients for early palliative care and trigger assessment and care planning.
AIMS: To document what tools for identification of patients with palliative care needs are available in the published literature and to ascertain how GPs in Europe currently identify patients for palliative care.
METHODS: A systematic literature search using PubMed and Embase, and a questionnaire survey among key informants in 14 European countries requesting data on methods used to identify patients with palliative care needs.
RESULTS: The literature search identified four tools. The questionnaire survey identified a further three in current use and found that in current practice identification is largely based on a GP's own clinical judgement and information received from the hospital: tools are rarely used.
CONCLUSIONS: Although several identification tools have been developed, none of these have been validated or widely implemented in Europe. Further collaborative international development, implementation and evaluation of such tools are recommended.