Improved Care for the Chronically Ill at a Lower Cost | Healthcare of Tomorrow

The often high cost of caring for the chronically ill comes with no guarantee that patients will ultimately receive the treatment that best suits their needs.

But representatives from three large health systems, who spoke Monday at the U.S. News Hospital of Tomorrow in Washington, D.C., say that more targeted care, which reduces hospitalizations, could both lower the total cost of care and improve patient satisfaction. 

Dr. Jeffrey Burnich, senior vice president of Medical and Market Networks at Sutter Health, says the health system leverages its vast care resources from home care to telehealth to better serve patients and reduce emergency room visits, intensive care needs and hospitalization among chronically ill patients. That has saved the health system billions of dollars and resulted in providing “better health care, frankly,” Burnich says, while keeping patients comfortable where curative treatment isn’t possible.

Burnich and other panelists also spoke of reducing fragmentation in care by aligning resources to help patients with everything from medication management and managing pain to aligning treatment with individuals goals.

Similarly, Dr. Brian Holzer, senior vice president of Diversified Services at Allegheny Health Network, says that “instead of making dozens of calls” to different organizations, patients and their families who sought care for their chronically ill loved ones can go through one umbrella organization at Allegheny to receive what they need, such as home health care. By streamlining services that used to be duplicative, and by driving more care outside the hospital, the health system has managed to saves patients and families hassle, while reducing the overall cost to deliver care.

Gerard Colman, chief operating officer of Aurora Health Care, says that Wisconsin’s largest health system leverages everything from its hospitals to 150 clinics and 70 pharmacies to serve chronically ill patients, whether to provide primary care or for pain management and palliative care. “Bringing those services together – that has been extremely successful for us at Aurora.”

All panelists noted that sometimes patients do need to be hospitalized, and that it’s part of the care continuum. But while issues ranging from emotional to spiritual remain for those facing end-of-life decisions, experts say, ending up in the hospital shouldn’t be an inevitability. “[Often] the reason people keep ending up in the hospital is they don’t have alternative choices,” Burnich says. “They don’t have other options.”