Older adults who avoided hospital admission with at-home geriatric assessment and home-based care incurred significantly lower costs compared with those hospitalized, in a new study.
The comprehensive geriatric assessment (CGA) is an established strategy for guiding care of older adults in a hospital setting, but its use in other settings has not been well studied, Surya Singh, PhD, of the University of Oxford (England), and colleagues wrote in their paper published in Age and Ageing. Hospital at home is active treatment by health care professionals in the patient’s home for a condition that otherwise would require acute hospital inpatient care, for a limited time period.
Interest in providing health care in the home as an alternative to hospitalization is on the rise as a way to improve patient outcomes and reduce costs, but actual cost-effectiveness data on HAH interventions are limited, they said. “Wide-scale implementation of such services has also been constrained by the practical difficulties of designing and delivering services that cut across primary and secondary care, might involve social care and require different workforce and funding arrangements.”
In this study, the researchers conducted a cost-effectiveness analysis alongside a randomized trial of an admission avoidance CGA hospital at home (CGAHAH) service as an alternative to hospital admission. They identified individuals aged 65 years and older who were living in the community but being considered for an unplanned hospital admission in the United Kingdom. A total of 700 individuals were randomized to CGAHAH and 355 to hospital care using a 2:1 ratio. Patients were assessed at baseline in the community or in an acute care setting before being transferred to CGAHAH service. These services included access to social workers, home care, district nursing, community rehabilitation, community mental health services and acute hospital services, such as diagnostic tests and transfer to hospital. The core workforce usually included consultant geriatricians, junior doctors, nurse practitioners, health care assistants or support workers, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and community pharmacists. There were at least daily virtual ward rounds
Comparison Between HAH and In-Hospital Groups
Patients in the CGAHAH group had a mean of 7.17 days of care, and those in hospital had a mean of 4.92 hospital days. At 6 months’ follow-up, the mean number of care days was 9.47 in the CGAHAH group and 10.58 in the hospital group, which was a nonsignificant difference.
“For complete cases, we found that allocation to CGAHAH resulted in 3 fewer days in hospital, a difference that was reduced to 1 day at 6 months follow-up,” the researchers wrote.
Overall, after adjusting for baseline variables, the health and social care costs after 6 months were less for CGAHAH than admission to hospital. The average cost differences between the two were approximately $3,000 or 2,265 pounds. The cost difference remained and increased to a mean difference of 2,840 pounds in favor of HAH after adding informal care/societal costs.
In addition, patients randomized to CGAHAH were less likely to have been admitted to long-term residential care at 6 months follow-up, compared with the hospital group; the mean days in residential care at 6 months were 3.43 and 6.14, respectively.
Both groups showed an approximate 15% decrease in measures of quality of life from baseline to 6 months, and no differences were noted in quality-adjusted survival between the groups.
Pandemic ‘Has Accelerated Interest‘ in HAH
“Health systems around the world are exploring alternatives to hospital admission, such as hospital at home, to act as a buffer to the increasing demand for hospital care,” corresponding author Sasha Shepperd, MSc, DPhil, said in an interview. “This is partly due to a growing older population with increased health needs, but also an emphasis on providing health care that limits a decline in capacity for the older population. Inevitably, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated interest in hospital at home to create additional acute health care capacity.”
The take home-message supports the home service option. “If you can access a hospital-at-home service, consider this as an option for older people who would otherwise be admitted to hospital and are eligible for hospital at home care. However, is important that the provision of hospital at home is adequately resourced, and that families and caregivers are supported,” she said.
“Barriers include delivering a different type of service that requires easy access to hospital services, including admission if required; a trained workforce to provide multidisciplinary care in a patient’s home; and ensuring a good fit with existing health and social care services,” Shepperd said.
Future research areas include the demands placed on caregivers from hospital-at-home services, and how the provision of hospital at home impacts hospital and community services, she added.
Findings Support Use of HAH
The data from the current study support the use of a hospital at home concept, especially in the geriatric age population, for acute health conditions that could be managed at home rather than acutely in a hospital-based environment,” Noel Deep, MD, emphasized in an interview.
Deep, who is a general internist in group practice in Antigo, Wisc., said he was not surprised by the study findings.
“I am a big proponent of the hospital at home approach to taking care of patients who can be safely and appropriately managed in the familiarity and comfort of their own home environment with help from physicians, nurses, and other home health care services,” he said. “It is a valuable option for appropriately screened and selected patients to be provided this approach to management of their acute health care situations.”
Primary care physicians should explore using HAH when faced with the decision of admitting an elderly individual to the hospital for management of an acute worsening of a chronic medical condition or a reversible acute illness, said Deep, who serves on the editorial advisory board of Internal Medicine News.
The current study reinforces previous studies and data showing the benefits of managing acute health problems of elderly individuals in their home environment. These benefits include “an opportunity to free up the emergency rooms and hospitals for providing care to those individuals who truly would be best served by being admitted to the hospital,” Deep explained. Home care for the elderly “would also lead to decreased utilization of the personal protective equipment and limit exposure of the vulnerable elderly individuals to the coronavirus. Primary care physicians should always explore this possibility of providing care to the patients in their homes if it is a viable option.
“While our practice environment [in the United States] is slightly different than that referenced in this article, many, if not almost all, of our primary care physicians provide care to the geriatric age population and provide assessment and management which would be comparable to this comprehensive geriatric assessment that is discussed in the article,” and many primary care physicians have seen similar results in outcomes that the study shows, said Deep. The available research and expert opinions are quite similar and agree upon the positive outcomes in terms of providing the CGAHAH approach.
Study Is Important but Raises Questions
The study is important because patient-centered, effective care should be the goal of any health system, William Golden, MD, of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, said in an interview.
Golden also noted that the study raised a number of questions. How each patient entered the treatment protocol was not clear. “Similarly, it is not clear whether admission criteria and resource costs in England cross to the United States experience.”
“Having close follow up of patients at home as opposed to an ‘observation status’ could be a nice innovation, but more details are needed to consider implementation in a specific community setting,” he emphasized.
As for the clinical value of the study for primary care, “primary care professionals should welcome well-staffed alternatives to inpatient care for select patient presentations,” said Golden, who is also a member of the editorial advisory board of Internal Medicine News.
The current study does not identify the conditions that were treated at home and the logistics of delivering such services, which limits comparison with what experts have seen in practice in terms of outcomes using the CGAHAH, he said. “Interested practitioners would benefit from literature detailing the staffing and decision support tools that form the core framework of this innovation.”
Limitations and Strengths of Study, According to Authors
The study findings were limited by several factors including the calculation of CGAHAH based on service budgets, rather than from collecting information on the actual resources used; potential errors in patients’ estimation of their informal care; and lack of data on a differential impact of CGAHAH for underserved communities, the researchers noted.
However, the results were strengthened by the large study population and randomized design, and support the value of CGAHAH, which addresses the need for management of multiple long-term conditions and the potential decline in functional and cognitive ability in older adults, they said. Providing CGAHAH as an alternative to admission to hospital for older people, with a focus on multidimensional assessment, is one option that might reduce reliance on hospitalization and residential care and at a lower cost.
The study was supported by the National Institute for Health Research, and several coauthors received individual grants from the NIHR, with no other financial conflicts to disclose. Golden and Deep had no financial conflicts to disclose.
This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.