The association between varying levels of palliative care involvement on costs during terminal hospitalizations in Canada from 2012 to 2015

BMC Health Serv Res. 2021 Apr 13;21(1):331. doi: 10.1186/s12913-021-06335-1.

Abstract

Background: Inpatient palliative care is associated with lower inpatient costs; however, this has yet to be studied using a more nuanced, multi-tiered measure of inpatient palliative care and a national population-representative dataset. Using a population-based cohort of Canadians who died in hospital, our objectives were to: describe patients' receipt of palliative care and active interventions in their terminal hospitalization; and examine the relationship between inpatient palliative care and hospitalization costs.

Methods: Retrospective cohort study using data from the Discharge Abstract Database in Canada between fiscal years 2012 and 2015. The cohort were Canadian adults (age ≥ 18 years) who died in hospital between April 1st, 2012 and March 31st, 2015 (N = 250,640). The exposure was level of palliative care involvement defined as: medium-high, low, or no palliative care. The main measure was acute care costs calculated using resource intensity weights multiplied by the cost of standard hospital stay, represented in 2014 Canadian dollars (CAD). Descriptive statistics were represented as median (IQR), and n(%). We modelled cost as a function of palliative care using a gamma generalized estimating equation (GEE) model, accounting for clustering by hospital.

Results: There were 250,640 adults who died in hospital. Mean age was 76 (SD 14), 47% were female. The most common comorbidities were: metastatic cancer (21%), heart failure (21%), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (16%). Of the decedents, 95,450 (38%) had no palliative care involvement, 98,849 (38%) received low involvement, and 60,341 (24%) received medium to high involvement. Controlling for age, sex, province and predicted hospital mortality risk at admission, the cost per day of a terminal hospitalization was: $1359 (95% CI 1323: 1397) (no involvement), $1175 (95% CI 1146: 1206) (low involvement), and $744 (95% CI 728: 760) (medium-high involvement).

Conclusions: Increased involvement of palliative care was associated with lower costs. Future research should explore whether this relationship holds for non-terminal hospitalizations, and whether palliative care in other settings impacts inpatient costs.

Keywords: Acute care costs; End of life; Palliative care; Terminal hospitalizations.