Feeding Tubes and Health Care Service Utilization in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis: Benefits and Limits to a Retrospective, Multicenter Study Using Big Data

Keith M. Swetz, Stephanie M. Peterson, Lindsey R. Sangaralingham, Ryan T Hurt, Shannon M Dunlay, Nilay D Shah, Jon C Tilburt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive, fatal neurologic disorder with predictable challenges regarding disease progression and end-of-life care. These include need for respiratory and nutritional support. Little is known about how such choices impact end-of-life health service utilization for these patients. Using OptumLabs Data Warehouse, a large administrative claims database with more than 150 million privately insured, geographically diverse enrollees, we sought to explore outcomes associated with the use of enteral nutrition (EN). Patients were of age ≥18 years, with first ALS diagnosis during calendar years 2006-2012, and 6 months of continuous health plan coverage before first diagnosis. EN use was identified using procedure codes. Data were summarized descriptively. Among 1974 patients with ALS, mean age was 60.0 ± 12.5 years, 41.8% were women, and 9.7% demonstrated use of EN. Median time from ALS diagnosis to evidence of EN was 211 days (interquartile range [IQR]: 70-426). Those receiving EN had greater aggregate comorbidity (47% with Charlson-Deyo Comorbidity Index ≥ 3 vs only 27% in non-EN subset). In total, 38.1% of patients had at least 1 hospitalization, with median time to hospitalization of 162 days. Unfortunately, the EN group ended coverage a median of 155 days after EN started (IQR: 63.5-388), thereby limiting ability to capture outcomes. Although many ALS patients were identified, EN use was lower than expected, due to being earlier in disease trajectory and lost to follow-up with transition from private insurance. As such, databases exclusively including privately insured patients may be suboptimal for detecting late complications of protracted illnesses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalInquiry : a journal of medical care organization, provision and financing
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017



  • adult
  • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/complications
  • delivery of health care/utilization
  • enteral nutrition
  • follow-up studies
  • multicenter study
  • outcome assessment (health care)
  • patient readmission/trends
  • protein-energy malnutrition/etiology
  • protein-energy malnutrition/therapy
  • retrospective studies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy

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