Palliative care is associated with shorter hospital stays and lower costs, according to a recent study from scientists at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City and Trinity College Dublin in Ireland.
The effect is greatest among the sickest patients, the authors found in a meta-analysis of previous research. They looked at team-based palliative care focused on improving quality of life and reducing suffering, studying data from six prior studies involving more than 130,000 adults admitted to hospitals in the United States between 2001 and 2015.
In that group, 3.6% received a palliative care consultation in addition to their other hospital care. (An abstract of the study is available online at: https://bit.ly/2Ky6NNI.)
The authors say the investigation represents the largest and most rigorous study to date to demonstrate that palliative care is associated with reduced hospital stays and lower costs, particularly for patients with the most complex conditions. Previous research has found that palliative care improves care quality, extends survival, and improves family well-being.
Hospitals saved, on average, $3,237 per patient over the course of a hospital stay when palliative care was added to their routine care as compared to those who didn’t receive palliative care, the study says. Palliative care was associated with a cost savings per hospital stay of $4,251 per patient with cancer and $2,105 for those with non-cancer diagnoses.
Savings were greatest for patients with the highest number of coexisting illnesses, lead study author, Peter May, MD, research fellow in Health Economics, Centre for Health Policy and Management at Trinity College Dublin, noted in a statement announcing the research results.
“People with serious and complex medical illness account heavily for healthcare spending, yet often experience poor outcomes,” May said. “The news that palliative care can significantly improve patient experience by reducing unnecessary, unwanted, and burdensome procedures, while ensuring that patients are cared for in the setting of their choice, is highly encouraging. It suggests that we can improve outcomes and curb costs even for those with serious illness.”
The association of palliative care with less intense hospital treatment was most pronounced among those patients with a primary diagnosis of cancer than for those with a non-cancer diagnosis, the study says. It also was lower for patients with four or more comorbidities compared with those with two or fewer.