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Friday, May 3, 2013

Care Coordination: Better Care at a Lower Cost

Amy Traver

Staff Writer

Comprehensive care coordination promises to be a key strategy in new care delivery models that aim to improve patient health and reduce waste in the health care system. The Affordable Care Act has made it easier for states to address our country’s rising health care costs by investing in care coordination. States can now design and test new models of care delivery and payment that improve health outcomes and patient experience while also reducing health care spending.

What is care coordination? At its core, care coordination is just what the name implies: a mechanism through which teams of health care professionals work together to ensure that their patients’ health needs are being met and that the right care is being delivered at the right place, at the right time, and by the right person. It also means that your doctors work with you and your family to identify your needs, priorities, and goals for different treatment plans. Your health care providers will help you figure out what's preventing you from following a course of treatment and help you find a way around those barriers. All of your doctors will know if you are admitted to the hospital or if another doctor changes one of your medications. Overall, care coordination means fewer unnecessary services, more comprehensive care, and, ultimately, better health.

When doctors prescribe lots of different medications or tests, it can be difficult to keep track of it all, especially since doctors rarely talk to each other or work together. Failing to coordinate care often results in medication errors, unnecessary or repetitive diagnostic tests, and preventable emergency room visits. These errors and unnecessary tests don't just hurt patients and their loved ones. They also contribute to unnecessary health spending. Some researchers have estimated that inadequate care coordination resulted in $25-40 billion in wasteful spending in 2011 due to complications and hospital readmissions that could have been avoided.

Some care coordination programs have already seen savings. Vermont’s Blueprint for Health, a statewide, public-private partnership that provides physician practices with insurer-funded community health teams and access to real-time electronic information, is just one example. Between 2007 and 2010, annual expenditures per person for Blueprint participants increased at a lower rate than controls, and the annual rate of hospital inpatient stays decreased by 6 percent, compared to 1 percent in the control group.

Replicating these results will require a long-term investment from community leaders, and it will take time. But if there is a commitment from key stakeholders to make and sustain necessary changes to improve the health of the community, then care coordination will pay off.

To read more about care coordination, check out our new brief, The Promise of Care Coordination: Transforming Health Care Delivery.