Background: Maintaining the recent expansion of palliative care access in the United States is a recognized public health concern. Economic evaluation is essential to validate current provision and assess the case for new programs. Previous economic reviews in palliative care reported on programs across settings and systems; none has examined specifically the hospital consultative model, the dominant model of provision in the United States.
Objectives: To review systematically the economic evidence on specialist palliative care consultation teams in the hospital setting, to appraise this evidence critically, and to identify areas for future research in this field.
Data sources: A meta-review ("a review of existing reviews") was conducted of eight published systematic reviews and one relevant nonsystematic review. To identify articles published outside of the timeframe of these reviews, systematic searches were performed on the PubMed, CINAHL, and EconLit databases.
Study selection: Articles were included if they compared the costs and/or cost effectiveness of a specialist hospital inpatient palliative care consultation for adult patients with those of a comparator.
Results: Ten studies were included and these demonstrate a clear pattern of cost-saving impact from inpatient consultation programs. Nevertheless, knowledge gaps still exist regarding the economic effects of these programs. Current evidence has been generated from the hospital perspective; health system costs, patient and caregiver costs, and health outcomes are typically not included.
Conclusions: Inpatient palliative care consultation programs have been shown to save hospitals money and to provide improved care to patients with serious illness. With a clear pattern of cost-saving using current methodology, it is timely to begin expanding the scope of economic evaluation in this field. Future research must address the measurement of both costs and outcomes to understand more fully the role that palliative care plays in enhancing value in health care. Relevant domains for such research are identified.