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The Case for Palliative Care: Cutting Costs Across the Board

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Palliative care is the fastest-growing medical specialty in America, says Managed Care Magazine. And for good reason: it’s a program that continues to prove its value, not just by improving patient care but also by dramatically reducing healthcare costs for insurance carriers, hospitals, and home-based care organizations.

Palliative Care Is A Financial Game-Changer

In fact, hospitals that implement palliative care programs can cut costs by millions. A study of New York state hospitals revealed that patients who received palliative care incurred $6,900 less in hospital admission costs and were less likely to spend time in intensive care. The study estimated that hospitals with 150 beds or more could expect an annual savings of $84-252 million in Medicare spending. A similar study conducted by the Hertzberg Palliative Care Institute, part of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, found that net admission costs were reduced by $1,696 for palliative care patients who were later discharged and $4,908 for those who died.

The savings benefits of home-based palliative care programs are just as staggering. A Washington Hospital Center study of home palliative care visits for geriatric patients revealed a 30% reduction in emergency room visits and a 10% reduction in hospital admissions. Home-based palliative care also leads to a significant reduction in the length of hospital stays and the likelihood of readmission within 30 days, as demonstrated by a 2012 study of a home-based fee-for-service palliative care program. A palliative care program could be a significant value-add for hospice and home health organizations seeking to improve quality of care without increasing costs.

Adoption of Palliative Care Is Skyrocketing

Hospitals across the nation are catching on to the potential savings and increasing their adoption of palliative care programs. The Center to Advance Palliative Care reported that 67% of American hospitals with 50 beds or more offered a palliative care program in 2015, with Washington, Nevada, Montana, New Jersey, Vermont, and New Hampshire offering the most programs.

And hospitals aren’t the only organizations to see the benefits of palliative care: Aetna implemented a palliative program called Compassionate Care and saw a net medical cost decrease of 22%, according to the Journal of Palliative Medicine.

Palliative Care Is Emerging As the Newest Growth Market in Healthcare

Although palliative care isn’t yet standardized, the nation’s widespread adoption of inpatient, outpatient, and home-based palliative care programs is a mark of what the future holds. Most insurance companies now cover palliative care services and organizations like Cambia Health Solutions, which includes Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield, are even launching their own palliative care programs.

There’s never been a better time to work in palliative care. If your hospice or home health organization has been considering whether to adopt a palliative care program, now is the time to get on board. As regulations get tighter and healthcare costs get higher, an effective palliative care program can help bridge the gap – it’s a cost-effective way to improve clinical outcomes and offer services to patients who may not qualify for hospice, all while providing your clinicians with the additional quality measures that will help secure more Medicare reimbursements.

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