Specialist Nurse Management Programmes: Economic Benefits in the Management of Heart Failure
John D. Horowitz
Chronic heart failure (CHF) is a modern-day epidemic in most developed countries. As such, it is both common and costly. Contrary to the impression given by clinical trial data, CHF mainly affects older individuals with approximately equal numbers of men and women and concurrent disease profiles likely to complicate or even prohibit the application of proven treatments. It is within this context that there has been an increasing interest in specific CHF-management programmes designed to limit costly hospital use in typically older individuals at high risk for poor quality of life, recurrent readmissions and premature death. This paper examines the evidence to suggest that CHF programmes involving individualised multidisciplinary post-discharge healthcare, with a major focus on specialist nurse management to ensure that the patient receives optimal treatment, are clinically and economically effective in reducing the typical burden imposed by CHF. These programmes appear to be most effective in `high-risk' patients who typically have recurrent readmissions in high-cost units. Overall, the literature suggests that these programmes are able to reduce recurrent hospital stay by 30-50% relative to usual care (even in the presence of gold-standard treatment) in the short to medium term with comparable cost benefits. Recent data from a management programme involving a cohort of typically older and fragile patients with CHF in Australia showed that at 3 years post index admission, hospital utilisation costs were reduced by one-third relative to usual care. The potential for enormous cost benefits (both in terms of absolute cost savings and in terms of facilitating a more efficient healthcare system) if a specialist nurse programme of care was applied in the form of a UK-wide heart failure service was also recently examined. Based on year 2000 activity levels, it was found that for each specialist heart failure nurse appointed in the UK (with a caseload of 200-250 patients per annum), nominal savings of Lstg 49 000 per annum could be generated in order to make the healthcare system more efficient.
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