Healthcare News & Insights

Discussing palliative care in the ED may improve patient outcomes

Normally, staffers in the emergency department are more focused on getting patients triaged and treated than providing them with patient-centered care. But a new study shows that shifting their focus to palliative care could lead to shorter hospital stays and reduced costs. 

AA043380In the study, recently published in the Journal of Palliative Medicine, researchers from New York University reviewed records from ED patients who received consults for palliative care, or care designed to relieve patient suffering rather than to diagnose or cure their conditions.

Half the patients received palliative care consults in the emergency room before they were admitted to the hospital. When compared with those who didn’t discuss palliative care with hospital staff until after they were admitted, the length of their hospital stay was close to four days shorter – a significant difference.

Why this approach works

Putting a palliative care team in your hospital’s emergency department could lead to better patient outcomes overall. Because palliative care is more focused on the needs of the patient, it helps hospitals provide more patient-centered care from the get-go.

“By providing early palliative care, patient needs are met earlier on, either preventing admission or reducing length of stay and treatment intensity for patients, which reduces costs to Medicare and the government,” said Dr. Abraham Brody, one of the NYU researchers, in a news release. “Patients receiving palliative care are less likely to be readmitted as well. Early palliative care can better help patients to have their wishes met, and allow them to return to and stay at home.”

Although palliative care is most commonly associated with chronically ill patients suffering from long-term illnesses such as cancer, applying the principles to all patients in the emergency department can have positive effects.

Addressing a patient’s immediate needs regarding their symptoms, instead of putting the sole focus on finding a diagnosis, makes the person more comfortable. And this may contribute to the faster recovery demonstrated in the study.

The possibility for reduced healthcare costs and fewer readmissions also gives weight to the argument that palliative care is important in the emergency room.

With all the changes hospitals have to weather due to healthcare reform, a palliative care initiative may not seem like the highest priority. But positive results like these have the potential to bolster other programs hospitals may put into place to provide high-quality care. So this makes the effort pay off in the end.

It’s best to evaluate your hospital’s specific long-term goals to see if expanded discussions about palliative care in the ED would be worthwhile.

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