Medical Research Highlights Palliative Care Contributions


Palliative care increasingly is the subject of clinical and administrative research in medical literature, with investigators examining its impact on costs and utilization of hospital care and other health services, as well as on such outcomes as pain and symptom management and patient and family satisfaction with health services.

An influential study of cost savings associated with hospital palliative care consultation services, conducted by R. Sean Morrison, MD, and colleagues at the National Palliative Care Research Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, matched 2,630 palliative care patients to 18,472 “usual care patients” and concluded that the cost savings averaged $4,988 per patient in direct costs per day for those dying in the hospital.3 A follow-up study in 2010 confirmed these results, and Dr. Morrison and colleagues have documented improved quality from palliative care based on a survey of bereaved family members of patients who received palliative care.4,5

A 2010 study by a group at Massachusetts General Hospital, led by Jennifer Temel, MD, reached the surprising conclusion that early palliative care for patients with metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer led not only to significant improvements in quality of life and mood and less provision of aggressive care at the end of life—but also to longer survival.6 The researchers have studied possible mechanisms for this result, as well as the integration of palliative care with oncology and the importance of palliative care support provided outside of the hospital, in community-based and outpatient settings. 7,8,9

Community-based palliative care is a significant new direction for palliative care in America, and the availability of palliative care outside of the hospital’s four walls is viewed as important to improving care transitions and preventing readmissions in the seriously ill patients typically targeted for palliative care. The effects of palliative care on 30-day readmissions rates was studied by Susan Enguidanos, PhD, MPH, and colleagues at the University of Southern California School of Gerontology; they found that receipt of palliative care following hospital discharge were a significant factor in reducing 30-day rehospitalizations.10

A study from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York explored outcomes from a dedicated acute palliative care unit in an academic medical center, while others have looked at the diverse landscape of palliative care in outpatient clinics and its potential for rapid growth.11,12

—Larry Beresford


  1. Lupu D. American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine Workforce Task Force. Estimate of current hospice and palliative medicine physician workforce shortage. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2010;40(6):899-911.
  2. Quill TE, Abernethy AP. Generalist plus specialist palliative care—creating a more sustainable model. N Engl J Med. 2013;368(13):1173-1175.
  3. Morrison RS, Penrod JD, Cassel JB, et al. Palliative Care Leadership Centers' Outcomes Group. Cost savings associated with US hospital palliative care consultation programs. Arch Intern Med. 2008;168(16):1783-1790.
  4. Penrod JD, Deb P, Dellenbaugh C, et al. Hospital-based palliative care consultation: effects on hospital cost. J Palliat Med. 2010;13(8):973-979.
  5. Gelfman LP, Meier DE, Morrison RS. Does palliative care improve quality? A survey of bereaved family members. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2008;36(1):22-28.
  6. Temel JS, Greer JA, Muzikansky A, et al. Early palliative care for patients with metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer. N Engl J Med. 2010;363(8):733-742.
  7. Irwin KE, Greer JA, Khatib J, Temel JS, Pirl WF. Early palliative care and metastatic non-small cell lung cancer: potential mechanisms of prolonged survival. Chron Respir Dis. 2013;10(1):35-47.
  8. Von Roenn JN, Temel J. The integration of palliative care and oncology: the evidence. Oncology. 2011;25(13):1258-1260,1262,1264-1265.
  9. Yoong J, Park ER, Greer JA, etc. Early palliative care in advanced lung cancer: a qualitative study. JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(4):283-290.
  10. Enguidanos S, Vesper E, Lorenz K. 30-day readmissions among seriously ill older adults. J Palliat Med. 2012;15(12):1356-1361.
  11. Eti S, O’Mahony S, McHugh M, Guilbe R, Blank A, Selwyn P. Outcomes of the acute palliative care unit in an academic medical center [published online ahead of print May 10, 2013]. Am J Hosp Palliat Care. PMID: 23666616.
  12. Smith AK, Thai JN, Bakitas MA, et al. The diverse landscape of palliative care clinics. J Palliat Med. 2013;16(6):661-668.

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