Association between the Availability of Hospital-Based Palliative Care and Treatment Intensity for Critically Ill Patients

Hua, May; Ma, Xiaoyue; Morrison, R. Sean; Li, Guohua; Wunsch, Hannah

Rationale: In the intensive care unit (ICU), studies involving specialized palliative care services have shown decreases in the use of non-beneficial life-sustaining therapies and ICU length of stay for patients. However, whether widespread availability of hospital-based palliative care is associated with less frequent use of high intensity care is unknown.
Objective: To determine whether availability of hospital-based palliative care is associated with decreased markers of treatment intensity for ICU patients.
Methods: Retrospective cohort study of adult ICU patients in New York State hospitals, 2008-2014. Multilevel regression was used to assess the relationship between availability of hospital-based palliative care during the year of admission and hospital length of stay, use of mechanical ventilation, dialysis and artificial nutrition, placement of a tracheostomy or gastrostomy tube, days in ICU and discharge to hospice.
Results: Of 1,025,503 ICU patients in 151 hospitals, 814,794 (79.5%) received care in a hospital with a palliative care program. Hospital length of stay was similar for patients in hospitals with and without palliative care programs (6 days, interquartile range (IQR) 3-12 vs. 6 days, IQR 3-11, adjusted rate ratio 1.04 [1.03 to 1.05], p < 0.001), as were other healthcare utilization outcomes. However, patients in hospitals with palliative care programs were 46% more likely to be discharged to hospice than those in hospitals without palliative care programs (1.7% vs. 1.4%, adjusted odds ratio 1.46 [1.30 to 1.64], p<0.001).
Conclusions: Availability of hospital-based palliative care was not associated with differences in in-hospital treatment intensity but was associated with significantly increased hospice utilization for ICU patients. At this time, the measurable benefit of palliative care programs for critically ill patients may be the increased use of hospice facilities, as opposed to decreased healthcare utilization during an ICU-associated hospitalization.


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Annals of the American Thoracic Society

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June 3, 2019


This is a pre-print of an article published in Annals of the American Thoracic Society, September 2018.