OTTAWA - The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) has released a study showing that Ontario could save millions of dollars on health care costs through improving palliative care access.
The June 2013 study by IMFC researcher Derek Miedema estimates improving access to palliative care, which studies have shown is "significantly less expensive" than acute or intensive care, could save Ontario from under $247 million to slightly over $2.1 billion, depending on the estimate model used.
"In short, good palliative care not only helps people to die comfortably, but also saves health care costs," Miedema writes.
Ontario's savings will only increase as the Baby Boomer population ages. The study cites figures from the Canadian Institute for Health that show per capita health care costs for those 80 and over are upwards of $20,113 per year.
"Palliative care is a medical specialization that offers mental, spiritual, emotional and physical care to those who are near or at the point of death, as well as their families," Miedema writes.
"It does a better job of providing care than the average hospital ward because palliative care staff have expertise in keeping a patient comfortable until they die instead of fighting to stave off death through sometimes damaging interventions."
But palliative care accessibility is "spotty" in the province. Even in large cities, access can depend on "the part of town you call home," he said.
He noted hospice care in the community is even less expensive, but the study did not have access to that data.
"The cost savings associated with palliative care seem to hinge on its less-intrusive nature, which is tuned more to comfort and care in dying rather than an intensive drive to heal," he writes.
Miedema said, "The aging of Baby Boomers means that now is the time to switch to more palliative care." Statistics Canada says that while 4.7 million Canadians were aged 65 or over in 2009, by 2036, that number will likely grow from 10 million or more.
But cost is not the only factor that should drive a push for better, more accessible palliative care.
"Palliative care is less costly because it encourages open discussion of end of life desires and palliative care teams craft a plan of care according to the desires of the patient," he writes.
"This plan can avoid some of the costly interventions that might occur in acute care or intensive care, and allow the medical team to focus on physical, emotional and spiritual comfort until the point of death."
Palliative care is a better option for patients who "do not desire their doctors to pull out all the stops in the face of an inevitable death," he said. "Those who have had the experience of good palliative care for a loved one will be able to testify that such care is anything but driven by cost savings.
"By accepting death is imminent and working to make the remaining journey as comfortable as possible, palliative care offers a wonderful alternative to acute or intensive care at end of life."