End of Life Care Improvements

According to a new report, Medicare patients are experiencing improvements in the end of life care that they receive. Specifically, beneficiaries who were chronically ill and in their last six months of life spent fewer days in the hospital in 2010 than they would have in 2007. Additionally, these beneficiaries spent more time in hospice care in 2010 than a similar cohort did in 2007.

This news comes courtesy of the Dartmouth Atlas Project. Researchers looked at over 1 million claims which were attributed to Medicare patients who died in the year 2010. When comparing these numbers to totals compiled in 2007, the researchers found that in just three years the number of hospital days logged by each patient dropped 9.5 percent. Additionally, the number of deaths that occurred among this cohort while at the hospital dropped by 11 percent.

These lower hospital stay numbers were mirrored by a parallel rise in hospice care usage. Compared to 2007 numbers, hospice care usage in 2010 was up 13.3 percent. The number of days spent in hospice care also increased by 15 percent.

Researchers attribute the changes in end of life care behavior to a greater focus on the wishes of dying individuals. They believe that increased hospice care might align more closely with the preferences of these Medicare beneficiaries, and that these numbers reflect medical professionals’ increased attention to patients’ wishes.

Although these new numbers generally bode well for the medical community, and may free up valuable hospital resources, not all of the researchers’ findings were positive. Medicare beneficiaries were equally likely to spend time in an intensive care unit in 2010 as in 2007. Additionally, the researchers found that Medicare beneficiaries in 2010 were more likely to see 10 or more doctors during the last six months of their lives than they had been in 2010.