The study, by researchers from Trinity College Dublin and New York’s Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, has just been published in the US journal Health Affairs, the leading journal of health policy thought and research.
The study also showed that the higher the number of additional co-existing chronic conditions (also known as co-morbidities) a patient had, the greater the reduction in hospital costs.
Researchers compared a treatment group of advanced cancer patients with additional serious health conditions who were seen by a palliative care team, with a separate group who received usual care only, at four large hospitals in the United States.
They found on average that patients from the treatment group had a 22pc reduction in costs. Furthermore patients with the highest number of co-morbidities had up to a 32pc reduction in costs.
Dr Peter May, Research Fellow at Trinity College Dublin and lead author of the study says: “Evidence repeatedly shows that people with high numbers of comorbidities disproportionately account for health-care spending in Ireland and elsewhere, yet outcomes for this patient group are often poor.
“This research suggests that by having the greatest effect for the most complex cases, good palliative care access will be an important strategy in providing effective and affordable care to people living and dying with serious chronic illness.”
There are excellent palliative care services across Ireland but there remains a high level of unmet demand. High quality research such as this is essential to improving understanding of the potential benefits of palliative care for patients and their families.