The Lynx Group

Integrative Medicine Cuts Inpatient Costs in Oncology Care Unit

October 2012, Vol 3, No 7

Albuquerque, NM—Using yoga and other integrative medicine and complementary therapies can cut oncology-related inpatient costs by more than $150 per day as a result of the reduced need for pain medications, anxiolytics, and antiemetics, according to a recent study conducted at the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City; this daily reduction adds up to nearly $1 million annually when the savings are extrapolated to a 24-bed oncology unit in the hospital.

This study was presented at the 2012 Society for Integrative Oncology’s Ninth International Conference, and was conducted as part of the Urban Zen Initiative, which was cofounded by Donna Karan, a private citizen who lost her husband to cancer.

Benjamin Kligler, MD, Vice Chair, Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center, and Jillian Friedman, supervisor of Urban Zen’s yoga therapy program, compared the costs of medications for 85 patients in the hospital’s standard oncology program with the costs for 72 patients who were admitted to were hospitalized in the medical oncology unit and were also involved in the Urban Zen’s program that included integrative yoga therapy, holistic nursing, and the use of patient navigators.

The 2 groups had similar baseline characteristics; approximately 50% of the patients in each group were female, white, and had a college education. They also had roughly equivalent proportions of various types of cancer, the most common of which were head and neck cancers and the second-most common was lung cancer.

Inpatient Cost-Savings

The investigators found that the average length of hospital stay was the same for the 2 groups—3 days. However, the use of integrative therapies at the Urban Zen center was associated with a significant decrease in the use of antiemetics, anxiolytics, hypnotics, and other medications. The patients participating in the Urban Zen interventions received, on average, significantly fewer antianxiety and antinausea medications, as well as less opiate analgesics.

The investigators obtained cost data from the hospital’s pharmacy. Their analysis showed that the overall cost of all medications was $888.91 in the control group compared with $419.89 in the Urban Zen integrative therapy group, a significant difference. This difference of $469 for the 3-day hospital stay translates into a daily $156 savings during these 3-day stay.

These savings can be extrapolated to annual savings to the hospital of $977,184, based on 24 oncology inpatient beds and 261 weekdays annually (Urban Zen’s services are not available on weekends). Dr Kligler and Ms Friedman noted that even if only 50% of the patients with cancer chose to participate in the integrative therapy program, the annual cost-savings would amount to just under $500,000 (ie, $488,592).

This is offset somewhat by the cost of creating a dedicated unit to provide the complementary services and other support offered in the Center for Health and Healing, but the investigators calculated that the savings would still accrue to the hospital, at more than $250,000 annually in the third year, with annual savings continuing to grow thereafter.

“There is potentially an even greater impact on the length of stay on a surgical oncology floor, where the average stay is longer and more contingent on resolution of pain, return of bowel function, and other symptoms,” noted Ms Friedman, who said they may investigate this in the future.

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