Economics of palliative care for hospitalized adults with serious illness: A meta-analysis

Peter May*, Charles Normand, J. Brian Cassel, Egidio Del Fabbro, Robert L. Fine, Reagan Menz, Corey A. Morrison, Joan D. Penrod, Chessie Robinson, R. Sean Morrison

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

155 Citations (Scopus)


IMPORTANCE: 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. 

OBJECTIVE: 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 studieswere 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. 

RESULTS: 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. Estimatesmay 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 guidelinesmay reduce costs for hospitalized adults with serious and complex illnesses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)820-829
Number of pages10
JournalJAMA Internal Medicine
Issue number6
Early online date30 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018


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