Background Economic analyses of end-of-life care often focus on single aspects of care in selected cohorts leading to limited knowledge on the total level of care required to patients at their end-of-life. We aim at describing the living situation and full range of health care provided to patients at their end-of-life, including how informal care affects formal health care provision, using the case of colorectal cancer. Methods All colorectal cancer decedents between 2009 and 2013 in Norway (n = 7695) were linked to six national registers. The registers included information on decedents’ living situation (days at home, in short- or long-term institution or in the hospital), their total health care utilization and costs in the secondary, primary and home- and community-based care setting. The effect of informal care was assessed through marital status (never married, currently married, or previously married) using regression analyses (negative binominal, two-part models and generalized linear models), controlling for age, gender, comorbidities, education, income, time since diagnosis and year of death. Results The average patient spent four months at home, while he or she spent 27 days in long-term institutions, 16 days in short-term institutions, and 21 days in the hospital. Of the total costs (~NOK 400,000), 58, 3 and 39% were from secondary carers (hospitals), primary carers (general practitioners and emergency rooms) and home- and community-based carers (home care and nursing homes), respectively. Compared to the never married, married patients spent 30 more days at home and utilized less home- and community-based care, but more health care services at the secondary and primary health care level. Their total healthcare costs were significantly lower (−NOK 65,621) than the never married. We found similar, but weaker, patterns for those who had been married previously. Conclusion End-of-life care is primarily provided in the secondary and home-and community-based care level, and informal caregivers have a substantial influence on formal end-of-life care provision. Excluding aspects of care such as home and community-based care or informal care in economic analyses of end-of-life care provides a biased picture of the total resources required, and might lead to inefficient resource allocations.
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