Does an Exercise and Incontinence Intervention Save Healthcare Costs in a Nursing Home Population?

Published in: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, v. 51, no. 2, Feb. 2003, p. 161-168

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2003

by John Schnelle, Kanika Kapur, Cathy Alessi, Dan Osterweil, John Beck, Nahla R. Al-Samarrai, Joseph G. Ouslander

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OBJECTIVES: To determine whether an intervention that combines low-intensity exercise and incontinence care offsets some of its costs by reducing the incidence of selected health conditions in nursing home residents. DESIGN: Randomized, controlled trial with the incidence and costs of selected, acute conditions compared between a 6-month baseline and an 8-month intervention phase. SETTING: Four nursing homes. PARTICIPANTS: One hundred ninety incontinent, long-stay nursing home residents. INTERVENTION: Low-intensity, functionally oriented exercise and incontinence care were provided every 2 hours from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. for 5 days a week for 8 months. MEASUREMENTS: Predefined acute conditions hypothesized to be related to physical inactivity, incontinence, or immobility were abstracted from residents' medical records by blinded observers during a 6-month baseline period and throughout the 8-month intervention. Conditions included those in the dermatological, genitourinary, gastrointestinal, respiratory and cardiovascular systems; falls; pain; and psychiatric and nutritional disturbances. Costs were determined using Current Procedural Terminology Center and Medicare allowable cost reimbursement at a rate of 80%. RESULTS: The intervention group had significantly better functional outcomes than the control group (strength, mobility endurance, urinary and fecal incontinence) and a reduction of 10% in the incidence of the acute conditions, which was not significant. There were no significant differences between groups in the cost of assessing and treating these acute conditions between baseline and intervention. CONCLUSION: The intervention, which is consistent with federal and clinical practice guidelines, significantly improved functional outcomes but did not reduce the incidence and costs of selected acute health conditions. The cost of implementing these labor-intensive interventions for frail nursing home residents will have to be justified based on functional and quality-of-life outcomes and are unlikely to be offset by savings in medical care costs in this population.

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