Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy

Document Type

Journal Article

Date of this Version


Publication Source

Journal of Palliative Medicine





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BACKGROUND: Terminal intensive care unit (ICU) stays represent an important target to increase value of care.

OBJECTIVE: To characterize patterns of daily costs of ICU care at the end of life and, based on these patterns, examine the role for palliative care interventions in enhancing value.

DESIGN: Secondary analysis of an intervention study to improve quality of care for critically ill patients.

SETTING/PATIENTS: 572 patients who died in the ICU between 2003 and 2005 at a Level-1 trauma center.

METHODS: Data were linked with hospital financial records. Costs were categorized into direct fixed, direct variable, and indirect costs. Patterns of daily costs were explored using generalized estimating equations stratified by length of stay, cause of death, ICU type, and insurance status. Estimates from the literature of effects of palliative care interventions on ICU utilization were used to simulate potential cost savings under different time horizons and reimbursement models.

MAIN RESULTS: Mean cost for a terminal ICU stay was 39.3K ± 45.1K. Direct fixed costs represented 45% of total hospital costs, direct variable costs 20%, and indirect costs 34%. Day of admission was most expensive (mean 9.6K ± 7.6K); average cost for subsequent days was 4.8K ± 3.4K and stable over time and patient characteristics.

CONCLUSIONS: Terminal ICU stays display consistent cost patterns across patient characteristics. Savings can be realized with interventions that align care with patient preferences, helping to prevent unwanted ICU utilization at end of life. Cost modeling suggests that implications vary depending on time horizon and reimbursement models.

Copyright/Permission Statement

Final publication is available from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers


Cost Savings, Hospital Costs, Intensive Care Units, Length of Stay, Palliative Care



Date Posted: 07 October 2019

This document has been peer reviewed.