Providing extensive support from well-trained nurses and doctors may cut the cost of caring for seriously ill patients sharply without hurting their satisfaction or shortening their life expectancy.

A team of researchers led by a scientist at Carnegie Mellon University of have published a study supporting that conclusion in a recent issue of the American Journal of Managed Care.

The researchers compared the effects of ordinary care management and intensive care management on 756 seriously ill members of health plans administered by Blue Shield of California, San Francisco.

The aggressive care management program cut medical costs to $49,742 per patient, from an average of $68,341 for members of the group that received ordinary care management.

Use of hospice care increased 62%, and use of home care increased 22%, but emergency room visits fell by 30%, and hospital days fell by 36%, the researchers report.

The program appeared to generate a return of $2 for every $1 invested in the program, the researchers estimate.

About 92% of the patients who received intense care management seemed to like the program, and assessments of their life spans were about the same as the life span assessments for patients who received ordinary care management, the researchers report.