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Breathing Easier: Addressing the Burden of Pneumonia in Canada

Nov 10, 2017
Wenshan Li
Wenshan Li
Research Assistant

The annual direct health care cost of pneumonia in Canada will increase to $532.2 million by 2025.

Pneumonia is a respiratory illness that not only presents more commonly among the elderly, but also among children and those with compromised immune systems. In addition to affecting health and well-being, the disease can also incur huge costs to the health care system, caregivers, and the economy.

Pneumonia can also arise as a complication among individuals with other underlying chronic conditions (comorbidities), such as cardiovascular disease and chronic lung illness. While the death rate from pneumonia alone can be as high as 15 per cent, mortality rises to over one in four affected individuals (26 per cent) in the presence of comorbidities. Since pneumonia is a preventable disease, and because it affects several vulnerable populations, there is an opportunity to offset its large impact on individuals, caregivers, the health care system, and the broader economy.

The Conference Board of Canada is engaged in a three-part research series on the burden of pneumonia in Canada. The first briefing aimed to estimate the health and economic burden of pneumonia over time. The second aims to examine trends in the likelihood of developing complications after hospitalization for pneumonia, and any impact these complications may have on the cost of treatment and recovery. The forthcoming and final briefing will discuss the policy implications of this research and explore the opportunities to better address the burden of pneumonia in Canada.

The first briefing of the series, The Economic Burden of Pneumonia in Canada: A Status Quo Forecast, quantified the economic impact of the disease by taking into account costs to the health care system. Hospitalized pneumonia among the senior population is forecast to increase dramatically in the next decade with the aging of the population and population growth. Hospitalizations due to pneumonia are projected to double by 2025 for the population aged 65 years and over, increasing from 24,761 hospitalizations per year in 2010 to 49,424 in 2025.

Along with the rising cost of treating each case of pneumonia, the annual direct health care cost of pneumonia is forecast to increase from $216.2 million in 2010 to $532.2 million in 2025. (See Chart 1.) Population growth and aging are the main cost drivers, especially since seniors, particularly those aged 75 and over, are more susceptible to developing pneumonia and tend to have costlier hospitalizations.

Chart showing total direct cost of pneumonia in Canada

Ahead of World Pneumonia Day on November 12, The Conference Board of Canada is releasing the second report, After Pneumonia: The Post-Discharge Patient Pathway, today. This report examines the post-discharge and cost trajectories for hospitalized pneumonia patients compared with non-pneumonia patients (individuals who were hospitalized for a reason other than pneumonia), as well as how the presence of pre-existing cardiovascular conditions can affect the recovery and cost burden of pneumonia.

Results of the analysis showed that pneumonia patients have much higher mortality rates than non-pneumonia patients and are more likely to be readmitted to hospital for pneumonia. Those with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions and those hospitalized with pneumonia as a secondary diagnosis (meaning that they had another major health issue as the primary diagnosis) had longer hospital stays and higher post-discharge costs of care. These findings highlight how pneumonia can arise as a serious and costly complication, especially among elderly patients with comorbidities. Also, it appears that pneumonia patients are likely to require more home care or residential care after discharge from hospital, suggesting that recovery from pneumonia can be lengthy and costly.

In terms of policy implications, the burden of pneumonia can be addressed in several ways. The following are some perspectives on what can be done to mitigate the future challenges brought on by the increasing burden of pneumonia in Canada:

  • Seniors, children, and those with compromised immune systems should be vaccinated against pneumonia. To facilitate access to vaccinations for Canadians who need it, public and private payers (insurers) should reduce the economic barriers associated with access.
  • Health care administrators should develop policies and implement interventions that would promote better prevention and management of pneumonia in high-risk settings such as hospitals and nursing homes.
  • Governments should, in addition to monitoring the financial and health burdens of disease, identify and implement policies that would promote better prevention, such as increasing awareness and accessibility to resources that can be used to promote health and well-being.

The forthcoming final briefing in this series will further discuss the policy implications of this work and identify opportunities to address the burden of pneumonia in Canada.

Related Webinar

After Pneumonia: Addressing the Health and Economic Burden of Pneumonia in Canada
January 17, 2018 at 11:00 a.m. EST

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