End-of-Life Care Transition Patterns of Medicare Beneficiaries

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To characterize the patterns of transitions in care and factors associated with multiple transitions in the last 6 months of life of U.S. decedents (N = 660,132).


Retrospective study.


United States.


Medicare beneficiaries aged 66 and older who died from July to December 2011.


Transitions between healthcare settings (e.g., hospital, skilled nursing facility, inpatient hospice, home hospice, home without hospice) in the last 6 months of life. A count variable for number of transitions was summarized, and Sankey diagrams were produced to illustrate the sequences of healthcare transitions. Multivariable analyses were used to identify factors associated with likelihood of having four or more transitions.


More than 80% decedents (n = 556,437) had at least one transition within the last 6 months of life; 218,731 had four or more transitions within the last 6 months of life. The most-frequent transition pattern (19.3% of all decedents; n = 127,435) was home to hospital, back to home or skilled nursing facility, to hospital again, and then to settings other than hospital, ending with four or more transitions. The average number of transitions in the last 6 months of life varied substantially across states, ranging from 1.8 in Alaska to 3.1 in New Jersey. Transitions became more intensive for decedents approaching death. In multivariable analyses, women, blacks, individuals younger than 85, and individuals without dementia were more likely to have four or more transitions (all P < .05).


Approximately one-third of the Medicare beneficiaries who died in 2011 had four or more transitions within their last 6 months of life. Identifying interventions that can facilitate care transitions consistent with beneficiaries’ preferences is warranted.

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