Cost-effectiveness of a brief two-stage emergency department intervention for high-risk elders: results of a quasi-randomized controlled trial

Jane McCusker, Philip Jacobs, Nandini Dendukuri, Eric Latimer, Pierre Tousignant, Josée Verdon
Annals of Emergency Medicine 2003, 41 (1): 45-56

STUDY OBJECTIVE: : We determine the cost-effectiveness of a 2-stage emergency department intervention in addition to usual ED care compared with that of usual care alone.

METHODS: The intervention comprises 2 steps: (1) identification of high-risk patients by using a screening tool and (2) a brief standardized nursing assessment to identify unresolved problems, followed by referral to an appropriate community provider. The patient population was composed of individuals aged 65 years and older to be released from the EDs of 4 Montreal hospitals. Patients were randomized by day of ED visit. The perspective of the study is societal, including patients, caregivers, and the formal health care (government-funded) system. Outcomes, measured from randomization to 4 months after randomization, included (1) functional decline, as measured by an activities of daily living instrument, or death, and (2) changes in depressive symptoms. Costs include post-ED care, including hospitalization, physician services, community care, outpatient drugs, and patient and caregiver costs. Cost items were measured with administrative databases and self-reported questionnaires. Unit costs for these items were either province-wide rates or else were estimated directly by using provider data. Cost-effectiveness is assessed in qualitative terms, such that outcomes and costs are compared separately.

RESULTS: The intervention was associated with a reduced rate of functional decline (including death) at 4 months. There was no effect of the intervention on change in the patient's depressive symptoms at 4 months relative to baseline. The estimated ratio of overall costs per patient in the intervention versus the control group, adjusted for covariates, was 0.94 (95% credible interval 0.75 to 1.17). Among patients who had visited the ED during the 30 days before the index visit, the ratio was 0.66 (95% credible interval 0.44 to 0.97).

CONCLUSION: In this study setting, the intervention is preferred over usual care because beneficial functional outcomes were observed, and overall societal costs were no higher than if usual care only was given.

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