Hospital deaths drop 8% with move to hospice, home care

Despite recent emphasis on letting people pass away in a hospice or at home, and patients' preference for it, the number of people who have died in hospitals over the past 10 years has only fallen 8 percent, federal statistics published by the National Center for Health Statistics showed.

Using data from an annual survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, the report revealed hospital deaths decreased from 776,000 in 2000 to 715,000 in 2010, despite an 11 percent increase in hospitalization. While hospital death rates declined, the rate of septicemia increased 17 percent. Patients who died in hospitals also were hospitalized longer than other patients, the survey showed.

"We know that overall death rates are down for some of these conditions … for example, the cancer death rate, the stroke death rate," study author Margaret Jean Hall of NCHS said in an interview with NBC News. "But it doesn't necessarily mean we are better at getting people well in the hospital. They could just have gone to a post-acute setting like a nursing home … or even home and they could have died soon after."

Hall adds that dying patients often receive aggressive care more intensive than what they requested. A recent report found that patient-centered end-of-life care that avoids aggressive treatments not desired by patients reduced costs and improved patient satisfaction with their care.

Theresa Forster, vice president for hospice policy at the National Association for Home Care & Hospice, told NBC News she recognizes that 8 percent is not a huge reduction, but said it's a step in the right direction and could be the beginning of more significant reductions. As Hall noted, moving dying patients to other facilities also can be related to efforts to reduce hospital readmission rates.

"We are getting a whole lot better but we still have a long way to go," Forster added. "I think the American public very much desires there to be more discourse around this whole area, and they want to be talking more with their doctors."

To learn more:
- read the NCHS data
- read the NBC News article

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