Background: 'Early discharge hospital at home' is a service that provides active treatment by health care professionals in the patient's home for a condition that otherwise would require acute hospital in-patient care. If hospital at home were not available then the patient would remain in an acute hospital ward.
Objectives: To determine, in the context of a systematic review and meta-analysis, the effectiveness and cost of managing patients with early discharge hospital at home compared with in-patient hospital care.
Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care (EPOC) Group Register , MEDLINE (1950 to 2008), EMBASE (1980 to 2008), CINAHL (1982 to 2008) and EconLit through to January 2008. We checked the reference lists of articles identified for potentially relevant articles.
Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials recruiting patients aged 18 years and over. Studies comparing early discharge hospital at home with acute hospital in-patient care. Evaluations of obstetric, paediatric and mental health hospital at home schemes are excluded from this review.
Data collection and analysis: Two authors independently extracted data and assessed study quality. Our statistical analyses were done on an intention-to-treat basis. We requested individual patient data (IPD) from trialists, and relied on published data when we did not receive trial data sets or the IPD did not include the relevant outcomes. For the IPD meta-analysis, where at least one event was reported in both study groups in a trial, Cox regression models were used to calculate the log hazard ratio and its standard error for mortality and readmission separately for each data set. The calculated log hazard ratios were combined using fixed-effect inverse variance meta-analysis.
Main results: Twenty-six trials were included in this review [n = 3967]; 21 were eligible for the IPD meta-analysis and 13 of the 21 trials contributed data [1899/2872; 66%]. For patients recovering from a stroke and elderly patients with a mix of conditions there was insufficient evidence of a difference in mortality between groups (adjusted HR 0.79, 95% CI 0.32 to 1.91; N = 494; and adjusted HR 1.06, 95% CI 0.69 to 1.61; N = 978). Readmission rates were significantly increased for elderly patients with a mix of conditions allocated to hospital at home (adjusted HR 1.57; 95% CI 1.10 to 2.24; N = 705). For patients recovering from a stroke and elderly patients with a mix of conditions respectively, significantly fewer people allocated to hospital at home were in residential care at follow up (RR 0.63; 95% CI 0.40 to 0.98; N = 4 trials; RR 0.69, 95% CI 0.48 to 0.99; N =3 trials). Patients reported increased satisfaction with early discharge hospital at home. There was insufficient evidence of a difference for readmission between groups in trials recruiting patients recovering from surgery. Evidence on cost savings was mixed.
Authors' conclusions: Despite increasing interest in the potential of early discharge hospital at home services as a cheaper alternative to in-patient care, this review provides insufficient objective evidence of economic benefit or improved health outcomes.