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Background: Given the volume and cost of inpatient care during the last year of life, there is a critical need to identify patterns of dying as a means of planning end-of-life care services, especially for the growing number of older persons who receive services from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).

Methods: A retrospective computerized record review was conducted of 20,933 VHA patients who died as inpatients between October 1, 2001 and September 30, 2002. Diagnoses were aggregated into one of five classification patterns of death and analyzed in terms of health care resource utilization (mean number of inpatient days and cumulative outpatient visits in the year preceding the patient’s death).

Results: Cancer deaths were the most common (30.4%) followed by end-stage renal disease (ESRD) (23.2%), cardiopulmonary failure (21.4%), frailty (11.6%), “other” diagnoses (7.3%), and sudden deaths (6.1%). Those with ESRD were more likely to be male and nonwhite (p < 0.05) and those with frailty were more likely to be older and married (p < 0.05). Controlling for demographic variables, those with frailty had the highest number of inpatient days while those with ESRD had the highest number of outpatient visits. Nonmarried status was associated with more inpatient days, especially among younger decedents.

Conclusion: As a recognized leader in end-of-life care, the VHA can play a unique role in the development of specific interventions that address the diverse needs of persons with different dying trajectories identified through this research.


Clinical and Medical Social Work | Diagnosis | Health Services Research | Social Work


[Publisher Statement]: This is a copy of an article published in the Journal of Palliative Medicine © 2007 Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.; The Journal of Palliative Medicine is available online at: