'Hospital at home' services to avoid admission to hospital

What is the aim of this review?

The aim of this Cochrane review was to find out if providing healthcare in an admission avoidance hospital at home setting improves patient health outcomes and reduces cost to the health service.

Key messages

Admission avoidance hospital at home probably makes little or no difference to patient health outcomes, may increase the chances of living at home at six months' follow-up, and may be slightly less expensive. However, the findings are not precise due to the small size of the studies included in the review.

What was studied in this review?

There continues to be more demand for acute hospital beds than there are beds. One way to reduce reliance on hospital beds is to provide people with acute health care at home, sometimes called 'hospital at home'. We systematically reviewed the literature on the effect of providing hospital at home services to avoid hospital admission for adults.

What are the main results of this review?

Admission avoidance hospital at home, with the option of transfer to hospital, may provide an effective alternative to inpatient care for a select group of elderly patients requiring hospital admission. We found 16 studies, of which six were identified for this update. Three studies recruited participants with chronic obstructive (lung) disease, two recruited participants recovering from a stroke, six recruited participants with a (sudden or short-term) medical condition who were mainly elderly, and the remaining studies recruited participants with a mix of conditions. The studies showed that when compared to in-hospital care, admission avoidance hospital at home services probably make little or no difference to patient health outcomes or to the likelihood of being taken to hospital, and may increase the chances of living at home at six months' follow-up. Patients who receive care at home may be more satisfied than those who are in hospital, but it is not known how this type of health care affects the caregivers who support them. With respect to costs, it is uncertain if hospital at home services reduce or increase length of stay or cost to the health service; when the costs for caregivers are taken into account any difference in cost may disappear.

How up to date is the review?

The review authors searched for studies published up to March 2016.

Authors' conclusions: 

Admission avoidance hospital at home, with the option of transfer to hospital, may provide an effective alternative to inpatient care for a select group of elderly patients requiring hospital admission. However, the evidence is limited by the small randomised controlled trials included in the review, which adds a degree of imprecision to the results for the main outcomes.

Read the full abstract...
Background: 

Admission avoidance hospital at home provides active treatment by healthcare professionals in the patient's home for a condition that otherwise would require acute hospital inpatient care, and always for a limited time period. This is the third update of the original review.

Objectives: 

To determine the effectiveness and cost of managing patients with admission avoidance hospital at home compared with inpatient hospital care.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, EMBASE, two other databases, and two trials registers on 2 March 2016. We checked the reference lists of eligible articles. We sought unpublished studies by contacting providers and researchers who were known to be involved in the field.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials recruiting participants aged 18 years and over. Studies comparing admission avoidance hospital at home with acute hospital inpatient care.

Data collection and analysis: 

We followed the standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane and the Effective Practice and Organisation of Care (EPOC) Group. We performed meta-analysis for trials that compared similar interventions and reported comparable outcomes with sufficient data, requested individual patient data from trialists, and relied on published data when this was not available. We used the GRADE approach to assess the certainty of the body of evidence for the most important outcomes.

Main results: 

We included 16 randomised controlled trials with a total of 1814 participants; three trials recruited participants with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, two trials recruited participants recovering from a stroke, six trials recruited participants with an acute medical condition who were mainly elderly, and the remaining trials recruited participants with a mix of conditions. We assessed the majority of the included studies as at low risk of selection, detection, and attrition bias, and unclear for selective reporting and performance bias. Admission avoidance hospital at home probably makes little or no difference on mortality at six months' follow-up (risk ratio (RR) 0.77, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.60 to 0.99; P = 0.04; I2 = 0%; 912 participants; moderate-certainty evidence), little or no difference on the likelihood of being transferred (or readmitted) to hospital (RR 0.98, 95% CI 0.77 to 1.23; P = 0.84; I2 = 28%; 834 participants; moderate-certainty evidence), and may reduce the likelihood of living in residential care at six months' follow-up (RR 0.35, 95% CI 0.22 to 0.57; P < 0.0001; I2 = 78%; 727 participants; low-certainty evidence). Satisfaction with healthcare received may be improved with admission avoidance hospital at home (646 participants, low-certainty evidence); few studies reported the effect on caregivers. When the costs of informal care were excluded, admission avoidance hospital at home may be less expensive than admission to an acute hospital ward (287 participants, low-certainty evidence); there was variation in the reduction of hospital length of stay, estimates ranged from a mean difference of -8.09 days (95% CI -14.34 to -1.85) in a trial recruiting older people with varied health problems, to a mean increase of 15.90 days (95% CI 8.10 to 23.70) in a study that recruited patients recovering from a stroke.

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