The good news about palliative care

The verdict is in: Palliative care is more effective at treating chronically ill and terminally ill patients than traditional models of care. This is the finding of a new report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality on its review of Kaiser Permanente’s home-based palliative care program.

That’s good news for hospitals and patients, because hospitals are under the gun to find ways to deliver care more efficiently and at a lower cost. Patients are more satisfied when they receive care that provides pain relief, comfort, advanced directive planning, and mental health and social services.

According to an analysis by Fierce Healthcare, the study found that 93 percent of patients receiving home-based palliative care were very satisfied with their care compared to 81 percent receiving the usual care. It also measured the cost of care, and found that it lowered costs for cancer patients by 35 percent, for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease by 67 percent, and for patients with congestive heart failure by 52 percent.

Further, the AHRQ study found that “almost one-third (30 percent) of the total Medicare budget is spent on beneficiaries in their last year of life; nearly 40 percent of this spending occurs in the last 30 days of life.” The study also found that palliative care reduced the number of emergency room visits, which is where care is the most expensive.

Palliative care is not just about end-of-life care for only terminally ill patients, according to Hospital Impact.

“Simply put, palliative care focuses on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain and stress of a serious illness. It is not the same as hospice care, which applies only to those patients in the final stages of terminal illness. Palliative care, in comparison, applies to people of all ages and is not restricted to terminal patients,” [Raymond Hino, CEO of Mendocino Coast District Hospital in California] explained.

According to Hino, palliative care also works in a hospital setting and can show boosts in patient satisfaction as well as lower costs. Increasingly, hospitals are turning to palliative care programs. Data from the Center to Advance Palliative Care shows that hospital palliative care programs have increased 138 percent, although the AHRQ study showed that the care is still rare in California hospitals, and access is scarce for most patients.

The $860 billion hospital industry is besieged on all sides by new Medicare regulations, the Affordable Care Act, and pressures from insurers and patients to keep costs low. Medical care homes and accountable care organizations are the new buzzwords for an industry that is trying everything to continue its mission to treat the sick, but the payoffs are still uncertain. The AHRQ findings are pretty clear-cut and may make it easier for hospitals to embrace a new program.

Patrice Sarath

Patrice Sarath is a writer and editor for First Research, covering the health care, insurance, and construction industries.

Read more articles by Patrice Sarath.

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