Incremental coordinated care improvements can save millions of dollars a year

Better coordinated care for patients with chronic conditions can potentially save providers millions of dollars a year, according to a new study by the RAND Corporation published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The researchers focused on a group of 300,000 Medicare patients who suffered from ongoing illnesses, including diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (emphysema) and congestive heart failure.

"Patients with chronic illnesses often face care that is poorly coordinated," RAND said in a statement. "They may see many different healthcare providers working in multiple clinical locations, and poor communication between provider and patient is common. These factors can lead to higher use of health services and poorer outcomes."

Even tiny and incremental improvements in the coordination of care lowered costs, according to the study-–a 4.7 percent reduction in costs for patients with congestive heart failure, a 5.1 percent reduction for patients with type 2 diabetes, and a 6.3 percent reduction for patient with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

"Improving the coordination of care for patients with chronic illnesses can be difficult to achieve, but our findings suggest that it can have benefits for both patients and the healthcare system," said Peter Hussey, a senior policy researcher and the study's lead author.

Improving the coordination of care for patients with these three chronic condition could save Medicare as much as $1.5 billion per year alone, according to the study.

However, many organizations may find it dauntng to implement coordinated care on a wide scale. Many physicians want autonomy over working in the tandem ways required to improve care coordination and improve costs. Indeed, doctors have often expressed fear that they would lose control over the way they practice medicine if accountable care organizations--which are designed to cut costs by coordinating treatment--are implemented on a large scale.

To learn more:
- read the Rand statement
- check out the study (subscription required)