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What Is the Return on Investment of Caring for Complex High-need, High-cost Patients?

Chang ET, Asch SM, Eng J, Gutierrez F, Denietolis A, Atkins D. What Is the Return on Investment of Caring for Complex High-need, High-cost Patients? [Editorial]. Journal of general internal medicine. 2021 Nov 1; 36(11):3541-3544.


Randomized controlled trials to improve care for complex, high-need, high-cost patients have not consistently demonstrated a relative decrease in acute care utilization or cost savings. However, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has been able to glean lessons from these trials and generate realistic expectations for success. Lessons include the following: (1) combining population management tools (e.g., risk scores) and clinician judgment is more effective than either alone to identify the patients best suited for intensive management; (2) treatment adherence and engagement may contribute more to preventable emergency department visits and hospitalizations than care coordination; and (3) efforts should focus on assessing for and treating those risk factors that are most amenable to intervention. Because it is unlikely that cost savings can fund add-on intensive management programs, the VHA Office of Primary Care plans to incorporate those intensive management practices that are feasible into existing patient-centered medical homes as a high reliability organization.

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