Make-a-Wish program tied to lower hospital costs for sick kids

(Reuters Health) - Kids with life-threatening illnesses who receive a special gift from the Make-a-Wish Foundation may have lower hospital costs than sick children who don’t get these gifts, a U.S. study suggests.

Make-a-Wish arranges experiences, or “wishes,” for children with progressive, life-threatening, or life-limiting illness.

Researchers compared unplanned hospital admissions and emergency room visits for 496 patients at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio and a control group of 496 kids with similar illnesses who didn’t receive a wish.

Compared to children who didn’t receive a wish, children who did 2.5 times more likely to have a drop in unplanned hospital admissions in the year after the wish compared to the year before, and 1.9 times more likely to have a drop in emergency room visits from the year before to the year after, the study found.

Overall, 62 percent of kids who received “wishes” had lower charges during the second year than during the first year, as did 42 percent of kids who didn’t receive “wishes.”

“For the first time we are able to quantify the impact of a “wish” using healthcare utilization data such as emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and costs,” said lead study author Dr. Anup Patel of Nationwide Children’s.

“It matters to patients and families, as we have shown that a ‘wish’ may allow the patient to be home more with their family, not miss school, and save families money in healthcare costs,” Patel said by email.

The average national cost of a wish is $10,130, which covers the expenses related to the wish experience including overhead and staffing needs, researchers note in the journal Pediatrics Research.

To assess how “wishes” impacted health costs, researchers looked at total hospital charges for kids who received wishes and kids who didn’t and considered cases whether or not the charges were equal to or exceeded the typical $10,130 cost of a wish.

A higher percentage of kids who received “wishes” achieved health costs that were less than the experiences or gifts they got. This, the researchers conclude, suggests that an added benefit of the Make-a-Wish program may be lower hospital costs or lower medical bills.

“We are not quite sure why we saw these results,” Patel said.

“However, I wonder if a Wish allows a patient to be more connected with their family and medical team to where they are engaged more in their care and possibly more adherent to treatments,” Patel added. “In addition, I believe there is a benefit to health for when people experience good things such as a Wish that makes them happier.”

More research is still needed to verify these results and understand why “wishes” might help curb health utilization or health spending, Patel cautioned.

When parents think children might benefit from some special experiences to take their minds off being sick but can’t get a formal “wish,” they can still try other things.

“If “wishes” are not possible, I recommend having breaks from illness where kids can be kids,” Patel said.

“It does not have to be an expensive trip, it can be play time or fun family time,” Patel added. “We may be able to see the same results, but I am not sure.”

SOURCE: Pediatric Research, online October 18, 2018.