"Americans are aging with serious, chronic illnesses," said Sean Morrison, director of the National Palliative Care Research Center and the study's lead author. "But despite enormous expenditures, they still get uncoordinated care, extreme burdens on their families and poorly managed pain."
Palliative care is the medical subspecialty focused on relief of the pain and other symptoms of serious illness. Palliative medicine treats serious illness regardless of prognosis. Patients can receive it at any point in their illness, with or without curative treatment.
With the aging of the population, especially the baby boomers, hospitals are caring for an increasing number of patients with advanced illnesses, such as cancer, heart disease and kidney failure. Palliative care programs provide a way for hospitals to meet the needs of these patients while staying financially viable.
According to the study of eight very different hospitals:
- Hospitals saved from $279 to $374 per day on patients in palliative care programs.
- Hospitals saved $1700 to $4900 on each admission of a palliative care patient.
- Savings included significant reductions in pharmacy, laboratory and intensive care costs. This means savings of more than $1.3 million for a 300-bed community hospital and more than $2.5 million for the average academic medical center.
"The potential to reduce the suffering of millions of Americans is enormous," said Diane Meier, director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care, a national organization based at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "This study proves that better care can go hand in hand with a better bottom line."
Until a decade ago, palliative care in the U.S. was typically available only to patients living at home and enrolled in a hospice program. By 2006, more than 41% of U.S hospitals reported having a program.
CAPC and the NPCRC are national, non-profit organizations located at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.