Better Care of Sickest Patients Saves Hospitals Money, Largest Study of Its Kind Finds

It’s significant due to the amount of unnecessary suffering caused by hospitals treating their sickest patients inadequately. This study is important because it shows that hospitals have an incentive — saving money — to treat their worst patients better.

Palliative care — which better aligns medical treatments with patients’ goals and wishes, aggressively treats distressing symptoms, and improves care coordination, — is associated with shorter hospital stays and lower costs, and shows its greatest effect among the sickest patients, according to a study published Monday, April 30, in JAMA Internal Medicine. The meta-analysis was conducted in collaboration between scientists at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Trinity College Dublin.

The investigation represents the largest and most rigorous study to date to demonstrate that palliative care — which has been previously shown to improve care quality, extend survival, and improve family well-being — is associated with reduced hospital stays and associated cost savings, particularly for patients with the most complex conditions. The study found:

  • Hospitals saved on average $3,237 per patient, over the course of a hospital stay, when palliative care was added to their routine care as compared to those who didn’t receive palliative care.
  • Palliative care was associated with a cost savings — per hospital stay — of $4,251 per patient with cancer and $2,105 for those with non-cancer diagnoses.
  • Savings were greatest for patients with the highest number of co-existing illnesses.

“People with serious and complex medical illness account heavily for healthcare spending, yet often experience poor outcomes,” says the lead study author, Peter May, MD, Research Fellow in Health Economics, Centre for Health Policy and Management, Trinity College Dublin. “The news that palliative care can significantly improve patient experience by reducing unnecessary, unwanted, and burdensome procedures, while ensuring that patients are cared for in the setting of their choice, is highly encouraging. It suggests that we can improve outcomes and curb costs even for those with serious illness.”