Role of Home Health for Community-Dwelling Older Adults Near the End of Life: A Resource Beyond Hospice?
J Palliat Med. 2022 Sep 22. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2022.0272. Online ahead of print.
Background: Medicare home health could be leveraged to care for those near the end of life (EOL), especially for those who cannot access nor desire the Medicare hospice benefit. It is unknown what role home health currently has either preceding or as an alternative to hospice use. Objective: The aim of this study is to compare populations served and visit patterns of Medicare beneficiaries receiving home health/hospice/both near the EOL. Design: Nationally representative cohort study of National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS) respondents. Setting/Subjects: A total of 1,057 U.S. decedents in NHATS from 2012 to 2017 with linked Medicare claims were included in this study. Measurements: Measurements included the proportion of decedents who received home health/hospice/both/neither (yes/no) in the last six months of life (EOL) and mean number of visits by discipline (nurse/therapist [physical/occupational speech-language pathologist]/social worker/home health aide) per 30 eligible days at home for home health/hospice/both at the EOL. The primary independent variable was the clinician discipline providing services (nurse/therapist/social worker/aide). Results: In our sample, 19.9% received home health only, 25.8% hospice only, 18.8% both, and 35.6% neither at the EOL. These populations varied in their demographic, region, and clinical characteristics. Decedents who received home health only compared with hospice only were younger (44.1% over age 85 vs. 58.4%), members of a racially/ethnically diverse group (19.7% vs. 10.9%), and with less disability (37.2% required no assistance with activities of daily living vs. 22.7%), all p values <0.05. In adjusted models, those receiving home health versus hospice received similar numbers of visits per 30 days (average 5.4/30 vs. 6.6/30), while those receiving both received more visits (10.5/30). Home health provided more therapy visits, while hospice provided more social work and aide visits. Conclusions: More than one in three Medicare decedents nationwide received home health at the EOL. Home health has the potential to serve a population not reached by hospice and improve the quality of end-of-life care.