- 1Betty and Guy Beatty Center for Integrated Research, Inova Health System, Falls Church, VA, USA.
- 2Center for Liver Disease and Department of Medicine, Inova Fairfax Medical Campus, Falls Church, VA, USA.
- 3Center for Outcomes Research in Liver Diseases, Washington, DC, USA.
- 4Inova Medicine, Inova Health Systems, Falls Church, VA, USA.
Background & aims: The benefits of hospice care in Medicare recipients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) have not been fully evaluated, which we aimed to study.
Methods: We used nationally representative samples of the Medicare beneficiaries in the USA (2011-2016) to assess the impact of hospice care on the outcomes of patients with HCC. Hospice care benefits on the survival time, length of stay (LOS), 30-day readmissions, and daily charges during the last year and month of life were assessed by logistic regression and generalised linear regression.
Results: Among 2,230 Medicare beneficiaries with HCC (mean age, 74.9 years; non-Hispanic White 79.1%; male 66.6%), median survival from HCC diagnosis was 68 days; 556 (24.9%) received hospice services; median hospice LOS was 12 days (4-35 days). Hospice users increased from 20.1% to 31.1% over time, driven by enrolment ≤15 days (45.1-59.2%, respectively). In the last year of life, hospice users (vs. no hospice care) had longer median survival time (76.5 vs. 66 days), lower in-hospital mortality (1.1% vs. 25.5%) and lower median daily charges ($951 vs. $1,004) despite more inpatient admissions and higher comorbid diseases. Hospice enrolment was associated with 48.6% reduction in daily charges (95% CI: -54.9% to -41.5%). Longer hospice LOS was associated with lower rates of healthcare utilisation. Patients with chronic liver disease were less likely to enrol in hospice care (odds ratio = 0.18, 95% CI: 0.14-0.24).
Conclusions: Although hospice provides a significant decrease in healthcare utilisation and some benefit in survival, most care is given in the last 2 weeks of life. Efforts to encourage earlier use of hospice services must continue.
Lay summary: The purpose of hospice care is to provide comfort and lessen suffering at the end of life. Hospice care allows one to die outside the hospital environment which is the wish of most people. However, we found that among persons aged 65 years and older who were diagnosed with liver cancer (which has a poor prognosis), only 25% were enrolled in hospice care and the majority used a hospice only in the last weeks of life. This is a disheartening finding as liver cancer patients with longer hospice enrolment had lower costs and improved survival. We suggest that healthcare practitioners consider discussion of palliative and hospice care routinely with patients suffering from liver cancer.