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J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2012 Jul;73(1):146-51. doi: 10.1097/TA.0b013e318251f9aa.

Is futile care in the injured elderly an important target for cost savings?

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  • 1Department of Emergency Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR, USA.



This study proposes a definition of futile care and quantifies its cost in injured elders.


This was a retrospective study of Medicare patients with an International Classification of Diseases-9 injury diagnosis admitted to 171 Oregon and Washington facilities from January 1, 2001, through December 31, 2002, who died within 6 months of admission. Futile care was defined as death within 7 days of discharge from a hospitalization of at least 14 days. We compared health care costs in the last 6 months of life with those who did and did not meet our definition of futility. To simulate predicting and preventing futility early in the hospital course, we examined the effect of reducing spending on the futile care cohort to the level of those who survived 7 to 10 days after injury.


There were 6,832 elders who died within 6 months of injury, of whom 230 (3.4%) met our definition of futility. The median cost of care in the last 6 months of life was $33,373 for those not meeting our definition of futility and $87,391 for the futile care group (p < 0.001). The 3.4% receiving futile care incurred 8.9% of total costs. Reducing expenditures in the futile care group to the level of those who died from 7 to 10 days after injury (median, $25,633) would result in an overall cost savings of 6.5%.


End-of-life health care costs were significantly higher for those who received futile care. However, even aggressive reductions in futile care would result in small savings overall.


Economic analysis, level III.

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