Death among patients hospitalized with symptomatic COVID-19: Implications for high-risk patients

Author Department

Healthcare Quality; Internal Medicine; Medicine

Document Type

Article, Peer-reviewed

Publication Date



Background: We aimed to examine the role played by the COVID-19 infection in patients' death and to determine the proportion of patients for whom it was a major contributor to death.

Methods: We included patients ≥50 years old who were hospitalized with COVID-19 infection and died between March 1, 2020 and September 30, 2020 in a tertiary medical center. We considered COVID-19 infection to be a major cause for death if the patient had well-controlled medical conditions and death was improbable without coronavirus infection, and a minor cause for death if the patient had serious illnesses and had an indication for palliative care.

Results: Among 243 patients, median age was 80 (interquartile intervals: 72-86) and 40% were female. One in two had moderate or severe frailty and 41% had dementia. Nearly 60% of the patients were classified as having advanced, serious illnesses present prior to the hospitalization, with death being expected within 12 months, and among this group 39% were full code at admission. In the remaining 40% of patients, deaths were classified as unexpected based on patients' prior conditions, suggesting that COVID-19 infection complications were the primary contributor to death.

Conclusions: For slightly less than half (40%) of patients who died of complications of COVID-19, death was an unexpected event. Among the 60% of patients for whom death was not a surprise, our findings identify opportunities to improve end-of-life discussions and implement shared decision-making in high-risk patients early on or prior to hospitalization.