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JAMA Intern Med. 2018 Jun 1;178(6):820-829. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.0750.

Economics of Palliative Care for Hospitalized Adults With Serious Illness: A Meta-analysis.

Author information

Centre for Health Policy and Management, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland.
Cicely Saunders Institute of Palliative Care, Policy, and Rehabilitation, King's College London, London, England.
Massey Cancer Center, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond.
Baylor Scott & White Health, Dallas, Texas.
Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.
James J. Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center, New York, New York.
Department of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York.



Economics of care for adults with serious illness is a policy priority worldwide. Palliative care may lower costs for hospitalized adults, but the evidence has important limitations.


To estimate the association of palliative care consultation (PCC) with direct hospital costs for adults with serious illness.

Data Sources:

Systematic searches of the Embase, PsycINFO, CENTRAL, PubMed, CINAHL, and EconLit databases were performed for English-language journal articles using keywords in the domains of palliative care (eg, palliative, terminal) and economics (eg, cost, utilization), with limiters for hospital and consultation. For Embase, PsycINFO, and CENTRAL, we searched without a time limitation. For PubMed, CINAHL, and EconLit, we searched for articles published after August 1, 2013. Data analysis was performed from April 8, 2017, to September 16, 2017.

Study Selection:

Economic evaluations of interdisciplinary PCC for hospitalized adults with at least 1 of 7 illnesses (cancer; heart, liver, or kidney failure; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; AIDS/HIV; or selected neurodegenerative conditions) in the hospital inpatient setting vs usual care only, controlling for a minimum list of confounders.

Data Extraction and Synthesis:

Eight eligible studies were identified, all cohort studies, of which 6 provided sufficient information for inclusion. The study estimated the association of PCC within 3 days of admission with direct hospital costs for each sample and for subsamples defined by primary diagnoses and number of comorbidities at admission, controlling for confounding with an instrumental variable when available and otherwise propensity score weighting. Treatment effect estimates were pooled in the meta-analysis.

Main Outcomes and Measures:

Total direct hospital costs.


This study included 6 samples with a total 133 118 patients (range, 1020-82 273), of whom 93.2% were discharged alive (range, 89.0%-98.4%), 40.8% had a primary diagnosis of cancer (range, 15.7%-100.0%), and 3.6% received a PCC (range, 2.2%-22.3%). Mean Elixhauser index scores ranged from 2.2 to 3.5 among the studies. When patients were pooled irrespective of diagnosis, there was a statistically significant reduction in costs (-$3237; 95% CI, -$3581 to -$2893; P < .001). In the stratified analyses, there was a reduction in costs for the cancer (-$4251; 95% CI, -$4664 to -$3837; P < .001) and noncancer (-$2105; 95% CI, -$2698 to -$1511; P < .001) subsamples. The reduction in cost was greater in those with 4 or more comorbidities than for those with 2 or fewer.

Conclusions and Relevance:

The estimated association of early hospital PCC with hospital costs may vary according to baseline clinical factors. Estimates may be larger for primary diagnosis of cancer and more comorbidities compared with primary diagnosis of noncancer and fewer comorbidities. Increasing palliative care capacity to meet national guidelines may reduce costs for hospitalized adults with serious and complex illnesses.

[Available on 2019-04-30]

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