How Do Children With Medical Complexity Die? A Scoping Review


How Do Children With Medical Complexity Die? A Scoping Review


Chan Ng GM; Bourassa MH; Patel H


Journal of Palliative Medicine




Child; child; cohort analysis; human; chronic disease; quality of life; North America; systematic review; review; health care utilization; personal experience; Only Child; clinical practice; child death; qualitative research; knowledge gap; place of death; chronic patient; biological marker


Introduction: Advancement in medical expertise and technology has led to a growing cohort of children with medical complexity (CMC), who make up a rising proportion of childhood deaths. However, end of life in CMC is poorly understood and little is known about illness trajectories, communication, and decision-making experiences. Objective: To synthesize existing literature and characterize the end-of-life experience in CMC. Methods: A literature search of MEDLINE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, Scopus, Embase, and Google Scholar was conducted up to August 26, 2021. Studies reporting CMC at end of life were included and the extracted data were analyzed descriptively. Findings: Of 1535 publications identified, 23 studies were included. Most studies (15/23 [65%]) were published from 2015 to 2021 and were quantitative in nature (20/23 [87%]). The majority of studies that extracted data from a single country (18/20 [90%]) originated from North America. Study outcomes were categorized into four main domains: (1) place of death (2) health care use (3) interventions received or withdrawn (4) communication, and end-of-life experiences. The weighted percentage of in-hospital CMC deaths was 80.6%. Studies reported that CMC had increased health care use and were subjected to more intensive interventions at end of life compared with non-CMC. Qualitative studies highlighted the following themes: Intrinsic prognostic uncertainty, differing perspectives of the child's quality of life, the chronic illness experience, a desire to have parental expertise acknowledged, surprise at the terminal event, the experience of multiple losses, with an overarching theme of the need for compassionate care at end of life. Conclusions: This scoping review highlighted important characteristics of end of life in CMC, outlining the emerging evidence and knowledge gaps on this topic. A better understanding of this cohort of seriously and chronically ill children would serve to inform clinical practice, service development, and future research.


Article information provided for research and reference use only. PedPalASCNET does not hold any rights over the resource listed here. All rights are retained by the journal listed under publisher and/or the creator(s).

Citation List Month

April List 2024



Chan Ng GM; Bourassa MH; Patel H, “How Do Children With Medical Complexity Die? A Scoping Review,” Pediatric Palliative Care Library, accessed July 14, 2024,