Palliative care can significantly reduce hospital costs

Jan 8, 2016 | Hospital Finance Efficiency

With more hospitals looking for ways to provide quality care while protecting their bottom lines, the use of palliative care is getting a push toward widespread adoption. Palliative care, also known as comfort care, supportive care or symptom management, focuses on managing symptoms of incurable or life-threatening illnesses and their emotional side effects instead of curing them. Advocates for this type of care note its effectiveness in patient treatment and ability to save on hospital costs.

A new study published in the January issue of the journal Health Affairs found that patients with multiple serious health conditions, or comorbidities, who underwent palliative care treatment had significant savings in hospital costs. Though prior studies have demonstrated a link between palliative care and cost reduction, the researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai were the first to find that palliative care is affected by comorbidities.

They compared the costs of one group of patients from six hospitals who received palliative care treatment within the two days of their hospitalization to another group of patients that received their usual care. The researchers found the patients in the palliative care group had a 22 percent reduction in costs compared to the regular care group. Patients with the highest number of comorbidities saved up to 32 percent in costs.

"Our latest research now shows the strong association between cost and the number of co-occurring conditions," R. Sean Morrison, the lead author of the study, told News-Medical. "Among patients with advanced cancer and other serious illnesses, aggressive treatments are often inconsistent with patients' wishes and are associated with worse quality of life compared to other treatments. It is imperative that policymakers act to expand access to palliative care."

According to the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), patients with comorbidities are a huge portion of U.S. Health Care spending. They comprise two-thirds of Medicare beneficiaries and almost half of its total spending. CMS estimates that annual Medicare expenditures will increase by 98 percent over the next decade, and national health care spending will grow by 76 percent. That's why the authors of the new study stress the importance of implementing palliative care, as it could significantly impact increasing health spending.

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