BACKGROUND: There is a heterogeneous literature on healthcare utilization patterns at the end of life. The objective of this study is to examine the impact of closeness to death on the utilization of acute hospital-based healthcare services and some primary healthcare services and compare differences in gender, age groups and major causes of death disease specific mortality.
METHODS: A matched case-control study, nested in a cohort of 411,812 subjects, linked to administrative databases was conducted. All subjects were residents in the Friuli Venezia Giulia Region (Italy), born before 1946, alive in January 2000 and were followed up to December 2014. Overall, 158,571 decedents/cases were matched by gender and year of birth to one control, alive at least one year after their matched case's death (index-date). Hospital admissions, emergency department visits, drug prescriptions, specialist visits and laboratory tests that occurred 365 days before death/index-date, have been evaluated. Odds Ratios (ORs) for healthcare utilization were estimated through conditional regression models, further adjusted for Charlson Comorbidity Index and stratified by gender, age groups and major causes of death.
RESULTS: Decedents were significantly more likely of having at least one hospital admission (OR 7.0, 6.9-7.1), emergency department visit (OR 5.2, 5.1-5.3), drug prescription (OR 2.8, 2.7-2.9), specialist visit (OR 1.4, 1.4-1.4) and laboratory test (OR 2.7, 2.6-2.7) than their matched surviving counterparts. The ORs were generally lower in the oldest age group (95+) than in the youngest (55-74). Healthcare utilization did not vary by sex, but was higher in subjects who died of cancer.
CONCLUSION: Closeness to death appeared to be strongly associated with healthcare utilization in adult/elderly subjects. The risk seems to be greater among younger age groups than older ones, especially for acute based services. Reducing acute healthcare at the EOL represents an important issue to improve the quality of life in proximity to death.