The health and cost effects of substituting home care for inpatient acute care: a review of the evidence

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BackgroundThere is much interest in reducing hospital stays by providing some health care services in patients' homes. The authors review the evidence regarding the effects of this acute care at home (acute home care) on the health of patients and caregivers and on the social costs (public and private costs) of managing the patients' health conditions.MethodsMEDLINE and HEALTHSTAR databases were searched for articles using the key term "home care." Bibliographies of articles read were checked for additional references. Fourteen studies met the selection criteria (publication between 1975 and early 1998, evaluation of an acute home care program for adults, and use of a control group to evaluate the program). Of the 14, only 4 also satisfied 6 internal validity criteria (patients were eligible for home care, comparable patients in home care group and hospital care group, adequate patient sample size, appropriate analytical techniques, appropriate health measures and appropriate costing methods).ResultsThe 4 studies with internal validity evaluated home care for 5 specific health conditions (hip fracture, hip replacement, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD], hysterectomy and knee replacement); 2 of the studies also evaluated home care for various medical and surgical conditions combined. Compared with hospital care, home care had no notable effects on patients' or caregivers' health. Social costs were not reported for hip fracture. They were unaffected for hip and knee replacement, and higher for COPD and hysterectomy; in the 2 studies of various conditions combined, social costs were higher in one and lower in the other. Effects on health system costs were mixed, with overall cost savings for hip fracture and higher costs for hip and knee replacement.InterpretationThe limited existing evidence indicates that, compared with hospital care, acute home care produces no notable difference in health outcomes. The effects on social and health system costs appear to vary with condition. More well-designed evaluations are needed to determine the appropriate use of acute home care.

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