Medical home program leads to 'significant' cost savings, fewer hospitalizations

Fewer emergency room visits and overall hospitalizations are the direct result of the use of medical homes, according to a study published in the May edition of the journal Health Affairs

The savings translated to $1.50 returned for every dollar spent over a two year span from 2006 to 2008, according to Robert Reid, MD, of the Group Health Research Institute, who studied the costs and outcomes for 9,200 patients receiving treatment via a Seattle-based Group Health medical home. Compared with Group Health clinics not employing a medical home model, patients in the medical home went to the emergency room 29 percent less and were hospitalized 6 percent less. 

"Group Health's experience demonstrates that primary-care investments in the form of the medical home can improve patients' experiences with care, quality of care, and providers' work environment, and, at the same time, save money," the study's authors wrote.

The favorable outcomes have prompted Group Health to implement the program at its 26 medical centers across Washington State, Kaiser Health News reports.

Despite this success, fundamental change is needed by many primary-care physicians before medical homes can truly take hold, according to Richard Bohmer, MD, a professor of management practice at the Harvard Business School. Bohmer, in his article also published in the May edition of Health Affairs, calls on doctors to improve their skills in areas like data management, human resources, financial control, negotiation and conflict resolution, and capital allocation in order to achieve successful primary practice redesign. 

"A bigger practical impediment to primary care reform would be underestimating the nature and extent of the managerial work needed to make it happen," Bohmer writes. "As we contemplate strategies to reinvigorate primary care, we must not fail to plan and budget for the development of the necessary management skills for those doctors to whom the work of implementing reform will fall."

To learn more:
- read this Kaiser Health News piece
- read this Medscape Today article
- read this Health Affairs Blog post
- here's Dr. Reid's abstract
- here's the Bohmer abstract