Healthcare utilization of bereaved relatives of patients who died from cancer. A national population-based study


Correspondence to: Research Unit for General Practice, Aarhus University, Bartholins Allé 2, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark. E-mail:



Bereavement is likely to result in an increased healthcare utilization. However, little is known about the impact of bereavement on an entire healthcare system, and there is no knowledge of what bereavement requires in terms of healthcare planning. Improved knowledge of patterns of healthcare utilization during bereavement may help optimize targeted support. The objective of this study was to describe patterns of healthcare utilization before and after spousal bereavement because of cancer.


A nationwide population-based case-control study of 6659 bereaved spouses and 66,590 age-matched and gender-matched controls was conducted using data from Danish national registers covering 2 years pre loss to 2 years post loss. Data were obtained on use of services from general practice, psychiatrists, psychologists, hospitals, and consumption of psychotropic medicines.


Bereaved relatives' healthcare utilization and use of medicine increased and peaked around the time of their loss. The rise in healthcare utilization was observable before the loss and during the first years after the loss. A rise was seen in particular in the length of stay at hospitals and in medicine consumption.


Spousal bereavement because of cancer appears to influence healthcare utilization months before the loss and years after the loss. Specific patterns of health care utilization suggest how different periods during the bereavement trajectory generate different needs. This study creates a basis for further research of the patterns of healthcare utilization during bereavement and healthcare planning in palliative care and the adjustment to spousal loss. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.