Home Health Agencies Solve Healthcare’s Urgent Issues

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Karen Utterback By Karen Utterback 
Former Vice President, Product Marketing and Strategy, McKesson (Retired)

Home Health Agencies Solve Healthcare's Urgent IssuesThe numbers are staggering. According to an August AHRQ report, 1% of patients consumed 21% of U.S. healthcare spending in 2010, and 5% of patients accounted for 50% of the total. That contrasts with the bottom 50% of patients, who accounted for 2.8% of spending that year.

But the effect that home health agencies can have on these patients is just as interesting. As agency executives know, patients with multiple diseases and those who have difficulty navigating the healthcare system (i.e., are using the ED as a primary care facility) are precisely the individuals our industry has the greatest success with.

A recent Kaiser Health News article detailed a number of these successes from around the country.

  • The University of Michigan Health System assigns specialized case managers to super-users, some of whom have been in the ED more than 100 times in a year. An initial focus on the 14 top ED users saved the hospital $1 million in 2011.
  • Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania enrolls elderly Medicare patients in its Proven Health Navigator program, calling them after they leave the hospital and providing heart failure patients with scales that transmit data to nurses.
  • A Maryland program sponsored by Medical Mall Health Services targets medically underserved patients. A Medical Mall nurse meets patients in the hospital 48 hours before discharge to plan home care and address issues such as lack of transportation to follow-up medical appointments. Patients receive a series of phone calls and at least one visit in the month after discharge. As a result, readmissions to the Prince George’s County hospital within 30 days of discharge dropped 34% between July and November 2012.
  • At University of Michigan’s Complex Care Management Program, case managers follow patients, sometimes for several years, accompanying them to doctors’ appointments, helping them obtain food or furniture and connecting them with community resources. A recent JAMA study found the program decreased annual spending on a group of dual-eligible patients by $2,500 per patient.

Don’t assume that your contributions to lowering healthcare costs are widely understood—a recent study by Yale School of Medicine researchers shows the medical community still has a long way to go when it comes to lowering costs through patient engagement. The study found that two-thirds of 400 elderly patients were discharged without a follow-up doctor’s appointment, and 25% of discharge instructions “did not use language likely to be intelligible to patients.”

These statistics clearly show the critical role that home health can play in reducing healthcare usage (and costs) by helping patients manage their conditions, navigate the healthcare system and remain in their homes.

How are you getting this message out to your care partners?

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