Geriatric-specific care cuts costs, maintains quality

Hospitals can cut national healthcare costs by as much $6 billion a year by creating interdisciplinary teams that specialize in the care of older patients, according to a new study by University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) researchers published this week in the June Health Affairs. The specialized hospital units, comprised of geriatricians, advanced practice nurses, social workers, pharmacists and physical therapists, assess elderly patients every day.

Analyzing a program called "Acute Care for Elders" (ACE) piloted in 200 hospitals across the country, the UCSF researchers found that ACE patients had a shorter length of stay of 6.7 days, versus 7.3 days for elderly patients in a traditional inpatient hospital setting.  

The specially designed units also saved hospitals $974 per patient. Patients in the ACE units cost $9,477, compared to $10,451 for usual care.

"What's encouraging about this is the outcomes were identical in both groups. So we were able to save money while maintaining the quality of care," first author Deborah Barnes, an associate professor in the departments of Psychiatry and Epidemiology & Biostatistics at UCSF, said Friday in a statement.

However, researchers noted that getting clinicians to change entrenched work cultures, as well as modify schedules to meet and discuss the patients could prevent hospitals from embracing elderly care units.

Nevertheless, the findings highlight that targeting care for older patients helps hospitals lower costs without compromising care quality.

With such goals in mind, Mount Sinai Hospital recently opened New York City's first geriatric emergency room, catered exclusively for patients 65 and older. So far, Mount Sinai has seen unscheduled return visits to the ER drop from 20 percent of cases to 1 percent, in addition to zero patient falls, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

For more information:
- here's the USF research announcement
- check out the study abstract