AIM: Pallative care programs can actually save hospitals $300 per day

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Hospitals can save more than $300 a day by taking providing seriously ill patients with better care, according to a study in the Sept. 8 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

With the aging of the population, especially the baby boomers, the researchers said that hospitals are caring for an increasing number of patients with advanced illnesses, such as cancer, heart disease and kidney failure. They said that palliative care programs provide a way for hospitals to meet the needs of these patients while staying financially viable.

“Americans are aging with serious, chronic illnesses,” said lead author R. Sean Morrison, MD, director of the National Palliative Care Research Center in New York City. “But despite enormous expenditures, they still get uncoordinated care, extreme burdens on their families and poorly managed pain.”

According to the study of eight different hospitals, the investigators found that:

  • Hospitals saved from $279 to $374 daily on patients in palliative care programs;
  • Hospitals saved $1,700 to $4,900 on each admission of a palliative care patient; and
  • Savings included significant reductions in pharmacy, laboratory and intensive care costs—more than $1.3 million for a 300-bed community hospital and more than $2.5 million for the average academic medical center.

“The potential to reduce the suffering of millions of Americans is enormous,” said Diane Meier, MD, director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care, a national organization based at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. "This study proves that better care can go hand in hand with a better bottom line."

Until a decade ago, U.S. palliative care typically was available only to patients living at home and enrolled in a hospice program. By 2006, more than 41 percent of U.S hospitals reported having a program.