'Hospital at Home' Cuts ED Visits and Costs for Cancer Patients

Roxanne Nelson, RN, BSN

June 11, 2020

Visits to the emergency department (ED) and hospitalizations are often frequent occurrences for cancer patients, but what if the "hospital" could be brought into the home instead?

A new American cohort study provides evidence that this can be a workable option for cancer patients. The authors report improved patient outcomes, with 56% lower odds of unplanned hospitalizations (P = .001), 45% lower odds of ED visits (P = .037), and 50% lower cumulative charges (P = .001), as compared with patients who received usual care.

"The oncology hospital-at-home model of care that extends acute-level care to the patient at home offers promise in addressing a long-term gap in cancer care service delivery," said lead author Kathi Mooney, PhD, RN, interim senior director of population sciences at the Huntsman Cancer Institute and distinguished professor of nursing at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City. "In light of the current global pandemic, we are compelled to consider new ways to provide cancer care, and the oncology hospital-at-home model is on point to address critical elements of an improved cancer care delivery system."

Mooney presented the findings during the virtual scientific program of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) 2020 annual meeting.

The hospital-at-home model of care provides hospital-level care in the comfort of the patient's home and is a component of many healthcare systems worldwide. Although it was introduced in the United States more than 2 decades ago, it has not been widely adopted or studied specifically in oncology.

Most cancer treatment is provided on an outpatient basis, which means that patients experience significant adverse events, toxicities, and disease progression while they are at home. Thus, Mooney noted, patients tend to rely heavily on the ED and sometimes experience unplanned hospitalizations and 30-day readmissions.

"These care patterns are distressing to the patients and their families and tax healthcare resources," she said. "They are even more concerning and salient as we endeavor to protect cancer patients and provide cancer care during a pandemic."

Currently, strategies to evaluate and support cancer patients and caregivers at home are limited. In 2018, the Huntsman Cancer Institute implemented Huntsman at Home, a demonstration project to evaluate the utility of an oncology hospital-at-home model.

Significantly Fewer Unplanned Hospitalizations

Huntsman at Home is run by nurse practitioner and registered nurse teams who deliver acute-level care at home. Physicians provide backup support for both medical oncology and palliative care. Nurse practitioners also work directly with the patient's oncology team to coordinate care needs, including services such as social work and physical therapy.

To evaluate the hospital-at-home model, Mooney and colleagues compared patients who were enrolled in the program with those who received usual care. The usual-care comparison group was drawn from patients who lived in the Salt Lake City area. These patients would have qualified for enrollment in the Huntsman at Home program, but they lived outside the 20-mile service area.

The cohort included 367 patients (169 Huntsman at Home patients and 198 usual-care patients). Of those patients, 77% had stage IV cancer. A range of cancer types was represented; the most common were colon, gynecologic, prostate, and lung cancers. As compared to the usual-care group, those in the home model were more likely to be women (61% vs 43%).

During the first 30 days after admission, Huntsman at Home patients had significantly fewer unplanned hospitalizations (19.5% vs 35.4%) and a shorter length of stay (1.4 vs 2.6 days). Their care was also less expensive. The estimated charges for the hospital-at-home patients was $10,238, compared with $21,363 for the usual-care patients. There was no real difference in stays in the intensive care unit between the two groups.

Mooney noted that since there have been few studies of the hospital-at-home model for oncology patients, the investigators' initial focus was on patients at hospital discharge who needed continued acute-level care and those who had acute problems identified through their oncology care clinic. Therefore, patients were not admitted to the program directly from emergency services, and chemotherapy infusions were not provided, although these are "other areas to consider in an oncology hospital at home mode."

Other limitations of the study were that it was not a randomized trial, and the evaluation was from a single program located at one comprehensive cancer center.

"These findings provide the oncology community with an opportunity to rethink cancer care as solely hospital and clinic based and instead reimagine care delivery that moves with the patient with key components provided at home," said Mooney. "We plan to continue the development and evaluation of Huntsman at Home and extend care to admission from the emergency department."

These findings provide the oncology community with an opportunity to rethink cancer care as solely hospital and clinic based. Dr Kathi Mooney

She added that together with Flatiron Health, they are validating a tool to prospectively predict, on the basis of the likelihood of ED use, which patients may benefit from Huntsman at Home support. They also plan to extend care to patients who live at a distance from the cancer center and in rural communities, and may include chemotherapy infusion services.

Palliative Care Patients Prefer Home-Based Treatment

In a discussion of the paper, Lynne Wagner, PhD, a professor in the Department of Social Sciences and Health Policy with the Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and a member of the Wake Forest Baptist Comprehensive Cancer Center, explained that some "aspects of healthcare are more translatable to a virtual or alternative delivery model than others. An area of cancer care greatly in need of innovation and quality improvement pertains to the management of oncologic emergencies."

She pointed out that optimal care for oncologic emergencies requires the "intersection of oncology and emergency medicine specialists," but there are often no well-defined processes for care coordination in place.

"Emergency department utilization could be reduced through greater precision with regard to risk stratification and early intervention and improved outpatient management, including improved symptom management," said Wagner.

Wagner suggested that research should incorporate patient-reported outcomes so as to measure patient-centered benefits of home-based care. "Patients who are receiving palliative care services prefer home-based care, and it's reasonable to anticipate this finding would extrapolate to the investigator's target population," she said. "However, there may also be unanticipated consequences, potentially including increased anxiety or increased burden on caretakers."

In addition, the tangible and intangible costs associated with traveling to receive healthcare services and time away from work can be reduced with home-based care, and this should also be quantified. "The costs associated with COVID infection should be estimated to realize the full economic value of this care model, given significant reductions in cohort exposure afforded by home-based visits," Wagner added.

The Huntsman at Home program is funded by the Huntsman Cancer Institute. The evaluation was funded by the Cambia Health Foundation. Mooney has a consulting or advisory role with Cognitive Medical System, Inc, and has patents, royalties, and other intellectual property for the development of Symptom Care at Home, a remote symptom-monitoring platform developed through research grants funded by the National Cancer Institute. No royalties have been received to date. Wagner has relationships with Celgene, Eli Lilly, Gilead Sciences, and Johnson & Johnson.

American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) 2020: Abstract 7000, presented May 30, 2020.

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