The ketogenic diet is a well-established therapy in pediatric centres in Canada, but does use of the diet increase or decrease health care costs?
This is a controversial topic and just starting to be studied by researchers. We know the foods can be more expensive on the ketogenic diet (KD), but medications are expensive too. Can you save money with the diet if children do better and are in the hospital less? To examine this, our group studied health care data related to people on the ketogenic diet.
About the Study
It is quite common for people to visit the emergency department (ED) after having a seizure. Children who are experiencing fewer seizures and fewer side effects from medication are less likely to visit the ED or be admitted to the hospital. This means that if the KD is helping to control seizures, it might also help to reduce healthcare costs.
In our article just published in Epilepsy Research, we found there were decreased emergency room visits and inpatient visits by people on the diet. This translated to decreased health costs.
Our group studied 166 people who started the KD between 2000 and 2010 at 3 pediatric centres in Ontario, Canada. We looked at the number of ED visits and hospital admissions in this group before and after starting the diet and the cost of health care in these 2 settings.
What did we find?
- In the two years before starting the KD, the children had a total of 841 visits to the ED.
- In the two years after starting the KD, this number dropped to 490 visits!
- The number of hospital admissions was also reduced, resulting in average savings of $1,059 per patient, per year.
- We also compared the total number of hospital visits between this group and another group of children who did not receive the KD. Even though both groups of children showed a decrease in hospital visits over time, the group on the KD had fewer hospital visits.
So what does this mean?
Initial costs are high when starting the diet due to need for an inpatient stay as well as services of a team including a trained dietitian. However, this study shows that over time, the reduction in hospital visits in children on the KD results in significant cost savings to the health care system.
Similar studies need to be done in other countries to confirm these findings.
Sharon Whiting, Elizabeth Donner, Rajesh RamachadranNair, Jennifer Grabowski, Nathalie Jette, Daniel Rodriguez Duque. Decreased health care utilization and health care costs in the inpatient and emergency department setting following initiation of ketogenic diet in pediatric patients: The experience in Ontario, Canada. Epilepsy Res 2017; 131:51-57.