Economic Analysis of Hospital Palliative Care: Investigating Heterogeneity by Noncancer Diagnoses

MDM Policy Pract. 2019 Sep 10;4(2):2381468319866451. doi: 10.1177/2381468319866451. eCollection 2019 Jul-Dec.


Background. Single-disease-focused treatment and hospital-centric care are poorly suited to meet complex needs in an era of multimorbidity. Understanding variation in palliative care's association with treatment choices is essential to optimizing interdisciplinary decision making in care of complex patients. Aim. To estimate the association between palliative care and hospital costs by primary diagnosis and multimorbidity for adults with one of six life-limiting conditions: heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), liver failure, kidney failure, neurodegenerative conditions including dementia, and HIV/AIDS. Methods. Data from four studies (2002-2015) were pooled to provide an analytic dataset of 73,304 participants with mean costs $10,483, of whom 5,348 (7%) received palliative care. We estimated average effect of palliative care on direct hospital costs among the treated, using propensity scores to control for observed confounding. Results. Palliative care was associated with a statistically significant reduction in total direct costs for heart failure (estimated treatment effect: -$2666; 95% confidence interval [CI]: -$3440 to -$1892), neurodegenerative conditions (-$3523; -$4394 to -$2651), COPD (-$1613; -$2217 to -$1009), kidney failure (-$3589; -$5132 to -$2045), and liver failure (-$7574; -$9232 to -$5916). The association for liver failure patients was statistically significantly larger than for any other disease group. Cost-saving associations were also statistically larger for patients with multimorbidity than single disease for two of the six groups: neurodegenerative and liver failure. Conclusions. Heterogeneity in treatment effect estimates was observable in assessing association between palliative care and hospital costs for adults with serious life-limiting illnesses other than cancer. The results illustrate the importance of careful definition of palliative care populations in research and practice, and raise further questions about the role of interdisciplinary decision making in treatment of complex medical illness.

Keywords: comorbidities; end of life care; heterogeneity; hospital costs; palliative care.