Can primary care visits reduce hospital utilization among Medicare beneficiaries at the end of life?

J Gen Intern Med. 2008 Sep;23(9):1330-5. doi: 10.1007/s11606-008-0638-5. Epub 2008 May 28.


Background: Medical care at the end of life is often expensive and ineffective.

Objective: To explore associations between primary care and hospital utilization at the end of life.

Design: Retrospective analysis of Medicare data. We measured hospital utilization during the final 6 months of life and the number of primary care physician visits in the 12 preceding months. Multivariate cluster analysis adjusted for the effects of demographics, comorbidities, and geography in end-of-life healthcare utilization.

Subjects: National random sample of 78,356 Medicare beneficiaries aged 66+ who died in 2001. Non-whites were over-sampled. All subjects with complete Medicare data for 18 months prior to death were retained, except for those in the End Stage Renal Disease program.

Measurements: Hospital days, costs, in-hospital death, and presence of two types of preventable hospital admissions (Ambulatory Care Sensitive Conditions) during the final 6 months of life.

Results: Sample characteristics: 38% had 0 primary care visits; 22%, 1-2; 19%, 3-5; 10%, 6-8; and 11%, 9+ visits. More primary care visits in the preceding year were associated with fewer hospital days at end of life (15.3 days for those with no primary care visits vs. 13.4 for those with > or = 9 visits, P < 0.001), lower costs ($24,400 vs. $23,400, P < 0.05), less in-hospital death (44% vs. 40%, P < 0.01), and fewer preventable hospitalizations for those with congestive heart failure (adjusted odds ratio, aOR = 0.82, P < 0.001) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (aOR = 0.81, P = 0.02).

Conclusions: Primary care visits in the preceding year are associated with less, and less costly, end-of-life hospital utilization. Increased primary care access for Medicare beneficiaries may decrease costs and improve quality at the end of life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Continuity of Patient Care / economics*
  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Hospitalization / economics*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicare*
  • Primary Health Care / economics*
  • Terminal Care / economics*
  • United States