Identifying Older Adults with Serious Illness: A Critical Step toward Improving the Value of Health Care

Amy S. Kelley, Kenneth E. Covinsky, Rebecca J. Gorges, Karen McKendrick, Evan Bollens-Lund, R. Sean Morrison, Christine S. Ritchie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Objective: To create and test three prospective, increasingly restrictive definitions of serious illness. Data Sources: Health and Retirement Study, 2000–2012. Study Design: We evaluated subjects’ 1-year outcomes from the interview date when they first met each definition: (A) one or more severe medical conditions (Condition) and/or receiving assistance with activities of daily living (Functional Limitation); (B) Condition and/or Functional Limitation and hospital admission in the last 12 months and/or residing in a nursing home (Utilization); and (C) Condition and Functional Limitation and Utilization. Definitions are increasingly restrictive, but not mutually exclusive. Data Collection: Of 11,577 eligible subjects, 5,297 met definition A; 3,151 definition B; and 1,447 definition C. Principal Findings: One-year outcomes were as follows: hospitalization 33 percent (A), 44 percent (B), 47 percent (C); total average Medicare costs $20,566 (A), $26,349 (B), and $30,828 (C); and mortality 13 percent (A), 19 percent (B), 28 percent (C). In comparison, among those meeting no definition, 12 percent had hospitalizations, total Medicare costs averaged $7,789, and 2 percent died. Conclusions: Prospective identification of older adults with serious illness is feasible using clinically accessible criteria and may be a critical step toward improving health care value. These definitions may aid clinicians and health systems in targeting patients who could benefit from additional services.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-131
Number of pages19
JournalHealth Services Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2017


  • Medicare
  • geriatrics
  • palliative medicine
  • population health


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