(HealthDay News) — Use of palliative care increases for recently hospitalized veterans when primary care teams have additional social work staffing, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open.

Researchers examined whether an intervention to increase social work staffing in Veterans Health Administration (VA) primary care teams would impact the use of palliative care among veterans with a recent hospitalization.

The analysis included data from 71 VA primary care sites and a total of 43,200 veterans with 91,675 hospitalizations. The veterans’ most common diagnoses in the previous 12 months were hypertension (73.67%), psychiatric diagnosis (56.27%), diabetes (37.58%), congestive heart failure (26.40%), tumor (16.32%), dementia (9.54%), and metastatic cancer (4.64%).

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Overall, a mean of 14.5 veterans per 1000 (1329 individuals total) used palliative care after a hospital stay. After the intervention, when controlling for national time trends and veteran characteristics, there was an additional 15.6 veterans per 1000 using palliative or hospice care after a hospital stay — a 2-fold difference vs the mean.

“This cohort study found significant increases in use of palliative care for recently hospitalized veterans whose primary care team had additional social work staffing. These findings suggest that social workers may increase access to and/or use of palliative care,” the study authors wrote. “Future work should assess the mechanism for this association and whether the increase in palliative care is associated with other health or health care outcomes.”

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