Background: Given the context of ageing populations globally, there are a growing number of patients with chronic conditions, some of whom are in the final stages of their disease trajectory, presenting to Emergency Departments. Aim: The aim was to estimate the incidence of patients with palliative care needs presenting to the department. Methods: Three databases (MEDLINE, CINAHL and Embase) were systematically searched up to August 2012. The reference lists of included articles were searched as well as Google and Google Scholar. Only studies in English were included. Two reviewers independently reviewed studies at the abstract and full-body stages. A critical review using systematic methods was undertaken as statistical analysis could not be done because of a lack of information. Results: Only 10 of 1427 identified records met the inclusion criteria. Different definitions of palliative care were evident. One article provided an incidence density for patients with non-small cell lung cancer, and we calculated the mean presentations to be 52.5 per 100 person-months. Two articles focussed on patients known to palliative care services; we estimated that 2.5 in 1000 Emergency Department visits were made by these patients. The review demonstrated that the studies were so different it was not possible to compare the data. Conclusion: There is an absence of evidence regarding the incidence of patients with palliative care needs presenting to the Emergency Department. Further research needs to be undertaken in this area to ensure both clinicians and policymakers have sufficient information for service provision.
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