Objective: To evaluate the use of healthcare resources during the last six months of life among patients of US hospitals with strong reputations for high quality care in managing chronic illness.
Design: Retrospective cohort study based on claims data from the US Medicare programme.
Participants: Cohorts receiving most of their hospital care from 77 hospitals that appeared on the 2001 US News and World Report "best hospitals" list for heart and pulmonary disease, cancer, and geriatric services.
Main outcome measures: Use of healthcare resources in the last six months of life: number of days spent in hospital and in intensive care units; number of physician visits; percentage of patients seeing 10 or more physicians; percentage enrolled in hospice. Terminal care: percentage of deaths occurring in hospital; percentage of deaths occurring in association with a stay in an intensive care unit.
Results: Extensive variation in each measure existed among the 77 hospital cohorts. Days in hospital per decedent ranged from 9.4 to 27.1 (interquartile range 11.6-16.1); days in intensive care units ranged from 1.6 to 9.5 (2.6-4.5); number of physician visits ranged from 17.6 to 76.2 (25.5-39.5); percentage of patients seeing 10 or more physicians ranged from 16.9% to 58.5% (29.4-43.4%); and hospice enrollment ranged from 10.8% to 43.8% (22.0-32.0%). The percentage of deaths occurring in hospital ranged from 15.9% to 55.6% (35.4-43.1%), and the percentage of deaths associated with a stay in intensive care ranged from 8.4% to 36.8% (20.2-27.1%).
Conclusion: Striking variation exists in the utilisation of end of life care among US medical centres with strong national reputations for clinical care.