Access to primary care improves health outcomes for children--and reduces cost of care

By Aine Cryts

Children with access to long-term primary care stay healthier--and the cost of care is lower, according to a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics.

Patients that had access to primary care for two years--provided within a Medicare ACO--led to children spending nearly 41 percent fewer days in inpatient care than those who didn't receive long-term primary care, according to Eric Christensen, Ph.D., a health economist, and Nathaniel Payne, M.D., a neonatologist, who are both affiliated with the Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

To arrive at their results, researchers combed through claims data for nearly 29,000 patients who had been involved with a Medicaid ACO, which was taken as a proxy for access to primary care, for at least one month between September 1, 2013, and May 31, 2015. They discovered:

  • Children with long-term access to primary care were more likely to receive care in an office setting (23 percent), more likely to go to the emergency room (6 percent) and more likely to take pharmaceutical drugs (15 percent).
  • Patients with at least three body systems impacted by a chronic condition fared best with long-term access to primary care; the impact wasn't as clear on children with less than three chronic conditions.
  • Continuous access to primary care translated to a 16 percent reduction in costs. The greatest cost reduction (33 percent) was witnessed among children with three body systems impacted by a chronic condition.

Access to primary care is only a part of the solution for pediatric patients, however. Providing social and emotional care to pediatric patients with chronic conditions can help foster a more complete healing process. Still, caring for children suffering from multiple chronic conditions is costly: Five percent of Medicaid's enrollees--most of whom suffer from chronic conditions--account for 48 percent of its costs, as previously reported by FierceHealthPayer.

To learn more:                                                                                                              
- read the study

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