Impact of Travel Time on Health Care Costs and Resource Use by Phase of Care for Older Patients With Cancer

PURPOSE:  

Many community cancer clinics closed between 2008 and 2016, with additional closings potentially expected. Limited data exist on the impact of travel time on health care costs and resource use. 

METHODS:  

This retrospective cohort study (2012 to 2015) evaluated travel time to cancer care site for Medicare beneficiaries age 65 years or older in the southeastern United States. The primary outcome was Medicare spending by phase of care (ie, initial, survivorship, end of life). Secondary outcomes included patient cost responsibility and resource use measured by hospitalization rates, intensive careunit admissions, and chemotherapy-related hospitalization rates. Hierarchical linear models with patients clustered within cancer caresite (CCS) were used to determine the effects of travel time on average monthly phase-specific Medicare spending and patient cost responsibility. 

RESULTS:  

Median travel time was 32 (interquartile range, 18-59) minutes for the 23,382 included Medicare beneficiaries, with 24% of patients traveling longer than 1 hour to their CCS. During the initial phase of care, Medicare spending was 14% higher and patient cost responsibility was 10% higher for patients traveling longer than 1 hour than those traveling 30 minutes or less. Hospitalization rates were 4% to 13% higher for patients traveling longer than 1 hour versus 30 minutes or less in the initial (61 v 54), survivorship (27 v 26), and end-of-life (310 v 286) phases of care (all P < .05). Most patients traveling longer than 1 hour were hospitalized at a local hospital rather than at their CCS, whereas the converse was true for patients traveling 30 minutes or less. 

CONCLUSION:  

As health care locations close, patients living farther from treatment sites may experience more limited access to care, and health care spending could increase for patients and Medicare.