Background: Hospital palliative care consultation teams have been shown to improve care for adults with serious illness. This study examined the effect of palliative care teams on hospital costs.
Methods: We analyzed administrative data from 8 hospitals with established palliative care programs for the years 2002 through 2004. Patients receiving palliative care were matched by propensity score to patients receiving usual care. Generalized linear models were estimated for costs per admission and per hospital day.
Results: Of the 2966 palliative care patients who were discharged alive, 2630 palliative care patients (89%) were matched to 18,427 usual care patients, and of the 2388 palliative care patients who died, 2278 (95%) were matched to 2124 usual care patients. The palliative care patients who were discharged alive had an adjusted net savings of $1696 in direct costs per admission (P = .004) and $279 in direct costs per day (P < .001) including significant reductions in laboratory and intensive care unit costs compared with usual care patients. The palliative care patients who died had an adjusted net savings of $4908 in direct costs per admission (P = .003) and $374 in direct costs per day (P < .001) including significant reductions in pharmacy, laboratory, and intensive care unit costs compared with usual care patients. Two confirmatory analyses were performed. Including mean costs per day before palliative care and before a comparable reference day for usual care patients in the propensity score models resulted in similar results. Estimating costs for palliative care patients assuming that they did not receive palliative care resulted in projected costs that were not significantly different from usual care costs.
Conclusion: Hospital palliative care consultation teams are associated with significant hospital cost savings.