Better Care, Better Bottom Line for Hospitals

R. Sean Morrison, MD


December 05, 2008


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Americans are aging with serious chronic illnesses. Yet despite enormous expenditures directed at their medical treatment, studies show that they still experience uncoordinated care, extreme burdens on their families, and poorly managed pain.[] 1] Meanwhile, our nation's hospitals are struggling to remain fiscally solvent in this setting.

Fortunately, palliative care programs provide a way for hospitals to meet the needs of these patients while remaining financially viable.

We recently completed a large-scale studythat clearly demonstrates hospital palliative care consultation programs save hospitals money.[2] The results were dramatic. Palliative care resulted in a savings of approximately $300 per day per palliative care patient. For the average 400-bed hospital, this translates into a savings of about $1.3 million per year.

Palliative care is the interdisciplinary specialty that focuses on improving quality of life for patients with advanced illness, through symptom management, communication, and coordination of care. Unlike hospice, hospital palliative care is not dependent on prognosis. By providing highly effective, well-coordinated care that clarifies goals and helps patients select treatments in line with those goals,[1,3,4,5,6,7] palliative care consultation programs structure hospital resources efficiently.[8,9,10,11,12,13]

It may appear self-evident that discontinuing costly, nonbeneficial interventions reduces hospital costs, but this actually represents a fundamental shift from the usual hospital care pathway, given that the culture of our hospitals seeks to prolong life and avert death.

Palliative care programs offer a key solution to fixing our hospitals' financial crisis while improving quality of care. This study proves that better care can go hand in hand with a better bottom line.

That's my opinion. I'm Dr. Sean Morrison, Professor of Geriatrics and Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Director of the National Palliative Care Research Center.

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