A large proportion of health care costs is incurred towards the end of life. However, very little is known about how patient characteristics impact of end of life costs.
A recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine by Dr. Amy Kelleya Geriatrician in the Mount Sinai Department of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine is a major advance in our understanding of costs of care at the end of life. This study provides the best data yet available about how patient characteristics impact Medicare expenditures in the last 6 months of life. The study examined these costs in decedents in the landmark Health and Retirement Study.
The most important finding of this study is the tremendous importance of functional status as a determinant of end of life medical costs. Kelley showed that both the degree of functional impairment and the slope of functional decline were strong determinants of medical costs. In particular:
- Decedents who needed no help with activities of daily living in the last 3 months of life had the lowest costs
- Those who had moderate functional impairment (need for help in 1 to 3 activities of daily living) though the last year of life had end of life Medicare expenditures that were 20% higher than those who needed no ADL help.
- Those who started out with good function (no need for help in activities of daily living 1 year prior to death) but has severe functional deficits in the last 3 months of life (need for help wiht 4 or more activities of daily living) had end of life Medicare expenditures that were 64% higher than those who needed no ADL help.
This study proves that functional impairment is a crucial determinant of end of life health costs. It strongly suggests that we need to pay at least as much attention to patients’ functional status as we pay to their diagnoses. As noted by the authors:
“Healthcare reforms may have a greater effect on improving care and reducing costs if they prioritize patient-centered rather than single disease oriented models of care. These efforts should include high-quality primary care and well-coordinated care for these complicated and functionally impaired patients.”
by: Ken Covinsky