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Hodiamont, Farina; Schatz, Caroline; Schildmann, Eva; Syunyaeva, Zulfiya; Hriskova, Katerina; Rémi, Constanze; Leidl, Reiner; Tänzler, Susanne; Bausewein, Claudia (2023): The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on processes, resource use and cost in palliative care. BMC Palliative Care, 22 (1). ISSN 1472-684X

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The COVID-19 pandemic impacts on working routines and workload of palliative care (PC) teams but information is lacking how resource use and associated hospital costs for PC changed at patient-level during the pandemic. We aim to describe differences in patient characteristics, care processes and resource use in specialist PC (PC unit and PC advisory team) in a university hospital before and during the first pandemic year.

Retrospective, cross-sectional study using routine data of all patients cared for in a PC unit and a PC advisory team during 10–12/2019 and 10–12/2020. Data included patient characteristics (age, sex, cancer/non-cancer, symptom/problem burden using Integrated Palliative Care Outcome Scale (IPOS)), information on care episode, and labour time calculated in care minutes. Cost calculation with combined top-down bottom-up approach with hospital’s cost data from 2019. Descriptive statistics and comparisons between groups using parametric and non-parametric tests.

Inclusion of 55/76 patient episodes in 2019/2020 from the PC unit and 135/120 episodes from the PC advisory team, respectively.

IPOS scores were lower in 2020 (PCU: 2.0 points; PC advisory team: 3.0 points). The number of completed assessments differed considerably between years (PCU: episode beginning 30.9%/54.0% in 2019/2020; PC advisory team: 47.4%/40.0%). Care episodes were by one day shorter in 2020 in the PC advisory team. Only slight non-significant differences were observed regarding total minutes/day and patient (PCU: 150.0/141.1 min., PC advisory team: 54.2/66.9 min.). Staff minutes showed a significant decrease in minutes spent in direct contact with relatives (PCU: 13.9/7.3 min/day in 2019/2020, PC advisory team: 5.0/3.5 min/day).

Costs per patient/day decreased significantly in 2020 compared to 2019 on the PCU (1075 Euro/944 Euro for 2019/2020) and increased significantly for the PC advisory team (161 Euro/200 Euro for 2019/2020). Overhead costs accounted for more than two thirds of total costs. Direct patient cost differed only slightly (PCU: 134.7 Euro/131.1 Euro in 2019/2020, PC advisory team: 54.4 Euro/57.3 Euro).

The pandemic partially impacted on daily work routines, especially on time spent with relatives and palliative care problem assessments. Care processes and quality of care might vary and have different outcomes during a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Direct costs per patient/day were comparable, regardless of the pandemic.

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