Improved services for chronic illness may cut costs

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(Host) Vermont is the first state in the country to launch a public and private collaboration to improve the delivery of medical services to people with chronic illnesses. The goal of the program is to provide more timely care to patients and reduce overall health care costs.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) In an effort to slow down the skyrocketing cost of health care, state officials and representatives of the private sector are joining together to make it easier for doctors to provide key services to patients with chronic illnesses and to empower these patients to take a more active role in the medical decisions affecting their care.

Health commissioner Dr. Paul Jarris says the initiative is needed because health care costs have increased more than 55% in Vermont in last six years. Jarris say the group is targeting chronic illnesses because almost 80% of all health care expenses in Vermont are the result of care delivered to 10% of the state’s population – these are people with chronic illnesses including diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, asthma and serious mental conditions:

(Jarris) “What’s stressing our system is, our system has been developed to care for an acute episode of bronchitis, a sprained ankle, a rash and yet that’s not what we’re doing in our practices in our health care system. What we’re dealing with are chronic, ongoing illnesses when patients need to come in and see a coordinated team even when they’re feeling fine and not having symptoms.”

(Kinzel) The collaboration plans to focus initially on people with diabetes and then use that model to expand to other illnesses. Jarris says the implementation of new electronic technologies should help doctors improve the management of their care for patients:

(Jarris) “I don’t know that I have 20 diabetics, I don’t have a tracking sheet to track when is the last of those 20, how many are coming in at a proscribed time, how many have had the eye exams, the blood exams – everything else. The only way I know is when you come in to see me and then I look at your chart. That’s the fundamental problem: the system doesn’t allow us to manage people outside of the face to face interaction.”

(Kinzel) Bea Grause, who’s the executive director of the Vermont Association for Hospitals and Health Care Systems, thinks money invested in prevention programs will lead to some long term savings:

(Grause) “The goal is to create a system that is patient centered and that works for the patient, with the eventual assumption that if you’re providing the right care in the right setting at the right time, you’re going to have an efficient system that will eventually lower costs.”

(Kinzel) The collaboration hopes to secure grant money from a number of foundations in the coming months to help launch their program.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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