Alternatives to inpatient stays may improve patient satisfaction

As the healthcare industry increasingly tilts in the direction of outpatient services, research shows numerous acute conditions can be treated in outpatient settings at no cost to quality or patient satisfaction.

Researchers, led by Jared Conley, M.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, analyzed 25 research reviews comprising 123 studies on outpatient care for acute care patients. The studies covered alternatives to hospitalization for such conditions as chest pain and heart failure, and included emergency room treatment, home care, specialized diagnostic units and short stays in observation units, according to JAMA Internal Medicine.

Conley and his team found quick diagnostic units were associated with low mortality and high levels of patient satisfaction, as well as savings of up to $3,000 per patient. Evidence was mixed for the effect of home care on heart failure, stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease mortality. While observation units had little effect on mortality for atrial fibrillation, chest pain and asthma, they yielded lower costs and higher patient satisfaction rates, according to the article.

In many cases, patients prefer care at home to hospitalization, according to Conley, and “the added benefit of making care more affordable through the use of these alternative management strategies further promotes such care redesign,” he told Reuters Health. For example, while inpatients who need antibiotic injections typically have stays of a week or two, home care models allow patients to give themselves injections at home, Conley said.

Going forward, Conley said, hospitals adopting such strategies will not only be beneficial for hospitals, but vital to their long-term sustainability.