Background: Emergency department (ED)-initiated palliative care consultation facilitates goal-concordant care while stewarding resource utilization. Delivery models are being piloted without clear operational and financial sustainability. Objective: To demonstrate that embedding a palliative care consultation service in the ED is clinically meaningful, operationally viable, and yields significant return on investment (ROI). Methods: Quasi-experimental study from August 17, 2020 to August 17, 2021. We established an ED-embedded palliative care consultation service at a 350-bed urban community hospital with 45,000 annual ED visits. A singe palliative care provider stationed in the main ED workstation area from 11 am to 7 pm daily. Matched analysis compared ED-embedded consultations against Floor and intensive care unit (ICU) consultations originating from usual practice. Results: ED consultations increased 10x, without cannibalization, to become the hospital's primary source of palliative care consultations. Clinical outcomes were meaningful, with 49% changing code status, 11% admitting to lower level of care, 11% avoiding hospitalization, 17% newly referred to hospice, and 21% newly referred to palliative care clinic. ED length of stay (LOS) did not lengthen, and ED staff strongly agreed that the service was valuable and unobtrusive. Compared with Floor, ED consultations had 8.1 days shorter hospital LOS (3.0 vs. 11.1 days, p < 0.01) with $5,974 lower median direct costs for index hospitalization ($6,211 vs. $12,005, p < 0.01). Compared with ICU, ED consultations had 4.2 days shorter hospital LOS (3.0 vs. 7.2 days, p < 0.01) with $9,332 lower median direct costs for index hospitalization ($14,093 vs. $23,425, p < 0.01). ROI was 6.7x net of foregone revenue and labor expenses. Conclusions and Relevance: This ED-embedded palliative care consultation service was clinically meaningful, operationally viable, and delivered a 6.7x ROI. ED-palliative partnerships present a quadruple aim opportunity to improve care for seriously ill patients.
Keywords: early palliative; embedded palliative; emergency palliative; palliative costs; palliative length of stay; palliative value.