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Early tube feeding may speed discharge for elderly hip fracture patients



LAS VEGAS – Lengths of hospital stay were nearly halved in elderly hip fracture patients started on enteral nutrition within 24 hours of surgery, according to a retrospective cohort study of 100 sequential hip fracture patients at Salem (Ore.) Hospital.

The 89 patients fed by nasogastric tube within 24 hours stayed in the hospital an average of 4.43 days. The 11 fed an average of 4.36 days later stayed an average of 7.80 days.

The risk of hospital stays 5 days or longer quadrupled when enteral nutrition was delayed (RR, 4.14). Two patients (18%) died in the delayed-feeding group; eight (9%) died in the early-feeding group.

The average age in the study was 83 years old. Patients who went for more than a day without being fed – the range was 2-7 days – were a bit older with an average age of 86 years, "meaning that they were unlikely to have much in the way of reserves and were very likely to have some malnutrition at baseline," said Dr. Cynthia Wallace, medical director of Vibra Specialty Hospital in Portland, Ore., as well as a palliative care consultant at Salem Hospital.

"Association doesn’t prove causality," she said. It’s possible that those who went longer without nutrition were sicker and more confused.

Alex Otto/Frontline Medical News

Dr. Cynthia Wallace

Even so, "the correlation was pretty compelling." The findings argue strongly for early nutrition "whether or not it’s known absolutely" that it improves outcomes. Nutrition is essential for recovery: "If you are going to treat a patient aggressively, you need to give them nutrition. It’s just the right thing to do." It may also save a lot of money. A day in the hospital costs more than $4,000, while feedings cost about $35 a day, Dr. Wallace said at the Society of Hospital Medicine annual meeting.

"Given an ALOS [average length of stay] of 7 days without intervention, an early 3-day trial of enteral nutrition could save the hospital between $2,939 and $12,065 for an ALOS reduction of 1-4 days, respectively," she reported in the accompanying abstract. "Assuming a utility of 100%, the cost per outpatient day gained for the patient varies from $25 to $100 for a range of 4 to 1 days gained. If early enteral nutrition is responsible for the reduction in ALOS, less than 10% of 1 cent is spent to garner $1 in reduced inpatient costs."

Days go by

It’s not uncommon for elderly patients to go days without being fed. One of the reasons, Dr. Wallace said, is because there’s been an overextrapolation from studies showing that percutaneous gastrostomy tubes don’t improve quality of life or survival in end-stage dementia.

Those findings "have unintentionally influenced use of temporary feeding tubes in patients with acute issues who are otherwise receiving full medical treatment" and have resulted "in inappropriate withholding of enteral nutrition" in the elderly, she said.

"We’ve morphed the data into saying, ‘Oh, if I’ve got a patient who has some underlying dementia, I shouldn’t give them tube feeds. But the data about not doing [gastrostomy] tubes in advanced dementia has to do with people who are not undergoing acute medical treatment. That’s a very different situation from hip fractures and other acute problems in the elderly. Unfortunately, the evidence for one situation has been transposed onto a different situation, so a lot of hospitalists hesitate to initiate tube feeds," she said.

In patients who waited more than a day to get fed, "there was a lag time to even getting a nutrition consult. Nobody really quite noticed that they weren’t getting nutrition." That’s consistent "with what I’ve seen throughout my hospitalist career, and not just in hip fractures. As hospitalist doctors, we get very worked up about the medical issues, and we simply don’t attend to nutrition. We sometimes think somebody else is taking care of it," she said.

"The ages were [statistically] the same between the two groups, and there was a pretty [even] distribution of comorbidities," she noted.

Dr. Wallace said she had no relevant financial disclosures. The work received no outside funding.

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