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Continuity of Care for Elderly Patients Needed

Older patients with chronic illnesses often have care that is poorly coordinated. They may see many different health care 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. Improving the coordination of care for elderly patients with chronic diseases trims costs, reduces use of health services, and cuts complications. Those are the finding of a study done by the RAND Corporation and published online in March 2014 by JAMA Internal Medicine.

The researchers looked at a large group of Medicare patients and learned that even modest improvements in the continuity of care among patients with diabetes, congestive heart failure or emphysema were associated with sizable reductions in use of hospital emergency departments and hospitalizations. The findings suggest that improving the coordination of care for patients with these three illnesses could save Medicare as much as $1.5 billion per year.

A release from RAND quotes lead author Peter Hussey, a senior policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization, as saying, "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 health care system”.

The release notes that care coordination among providers has been identified as a priority by the Institute of Medicine and the National Priorities Partnership, a coalition of 52 national organizations working to improve the U.S. health care system. New models of patient care and provider payment programs — encouraged under the Affordable Care Act — are intended to reduce costs and improve quality through better coordination of care.

Previous studies have shown that patients with a close, continuous relationship with a physician are more likely to received recommended medical care. But many programs that aim to improve coordination of care have not reduced costs or improved quality.

Researchers evaluated the care received by nearly 300,000 Medicare recipients who were treated for an episode of congestive heart failure, emphysema or type 2 diabetes.

The study used a standard measure of continuity of care to determine how well patients' care was coordinated among different health providers. Care was deemed to be better coordinated if patients saw fewer health providers or if visits were concentrated among fewer providers.

Researchers found that patients with better continuity of care were less likely to be hospitalized, less likely to visit hospital emergency departments, had lower rates of complications and had lower overall costs for their episodes of care.

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