From the Journals

Prompt palliative care cut hospital costs in pooled study



For adults with serious illness, consulting with a palliative care team within 3 days of hospital admission significantly reduced hospital costs, according to findings from a systematic review and meta-analysis.

In a pooled analysis of six cohort studies, average cost savings per admission were $3,237 (95% confidence interval, –$3,581 to −$2,893) overall, $4,251 for patients with cancer, and $2,105 for patients with other serious illnesses (all P values less than .001), reported Peter May, PhD, of Trinity College Dublin, and his associates.

In this latter group, prompt palliative care consultations saved more when patients had at least four comorbidities rather than two or fewer comorbidities, the reviewers wrote. The report was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

About one in four Medicare beneficiaries dies in acute care hospitals, often after weeks of intensive, costly care that may not reflect personal wishes, according to an earlier study (JAMA. 2013;309:470-7). Economic studies have tried to pinpoint the cost savings of palliative care. These studies have found it important to consider both the clinical characteristics of patients and the amount of time between admission and palliative consultations, the reviewers noted. However, heterogeneity among older studies had precluded pooled analyses.

The six studies in this meta-analysis were identified by a search of Embase, PsycINFO, CENTRAL, PubMed, CINAHL, and EconLit databases for economic studies of hospital-based palliative care consultations. The studies were published between 2008 and 2017 and included 133,118 adults with cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, major organ failure, AIDS/HIV, or serious neurodegenerative disease. Patients tended to be in their 60s and were usually Medicare beneficiaries, although one study focused only on Medicaid enrollees. Forty-one percent of patients had a primary diagnosis of cancer, and 93% were discharged alive. Most also had at least two comorbidities. Only 3.6% received a palliative care consultation (range, 2.2% to 22.3%).

The link that they found between more comorbidities and greater cost savings “is the reverse of prior research that assumed that long-stay, high-cost hospitalized patients could not have their care trajectories affected by palliative care,” the researchers wrote. “Current palliative care provision in the United States is characterized by widespread understaffing. Our results suggest that acute care hospitals may be able to reduce costs for this population by increasing palliative care capacity to meet national guidelines.”

Dr. May received grant support from The Atlantic Philanthropies. The reviewers reported having no conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: May P et al. JAMA Intern Med. 2018 Apr 30. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.0750.

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