Coordinated care: Health care centered on you

Patient-centered care is improving health and saving money.

Between juggling her job and caring for her ill husband, Karen had a long list of daily to-dos that often sent managing her own type 2 diabetes to the bottom of the list.

Ignoring her condition became dangerous, though. She started to develop fatigue, episodes of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and numbness in her fingers and toes.

With a chronic disease like type 2 diabetes, Karen needed help from multiple doctors. Just as important, they all needed to be on the same page about what was going on with Karen.

What Karen needed was a health care quarterback who could get all her doctors on the same game plan.

Care focused on you

If you've ever had two doctors order the same set of tests for you or had providers give you conflicting advice, you know how frustrating the health care system can be.

But it's starting to change. More doctors and medical practices are turning toward something called patient-centered care. And it may be just what the doctor ordered.

With this new approach, your primary care provider serves as the point person—the quarterback—who takes charge of your health care game plan. Your primary care doctor stays in the loop about any tests or prescriptions ordered for you and coordinates with specialists to manage your care. The result is a more consistent and supportive experience.

Karen was able to experience the benefits of patient-centered care firsthand.

Her care team developed an action plan that included:

  • Putting her medications in a very visible place
  • Setting up reminders on her mobile phone to take them
  • Starting a food diary
  • Testing her blood glucose more often

After four weeks, Karen's blood glucose and blood pressure had dropped to healthier numbers, and she had lost five pounds.

A new approach boosts quality

It's not news that health care costs are rising. As a country, we spent about $3.2 trillion in 2015 on health care costs, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 10 Americans reported putting off medical care in 2015 due to cost.

One of the ways Regence is tackling health care costs and improving health care quality is through patient-centered care.

To understand how this improves health care AND cuts costs, let's take a look at the traditional model of health care, which pays providers for each service they deliver. In this case, the more appointments, lab tests and other services a doctor orders, the more money that doctor makes. This is often called fee for service.

With patient-centered care, Regence provides an incentive to providers who take on the task of managing care for their patients, such as reminding a patient to check their blood glucose or following up with a patient who had an ER visit last week.

With this arrangement, doctors are compensated for the quality of the care they provide, not necessarily the amount. Their patients are more likely to get preventive care like blood pressure and breast cancer screenings, and are less likely to be readmitted to a hospital. This is called fee for value.

Better health for less money

The results are noticeable: Participating physicians in Idaho saw a 15% improvement among Regence members with chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. And they saw an 8% reduction in ER visits. Members working with doctors participating in the program reported a satisfaction rate of 88%.

Studies have shown that patient-centered care also saves money by cutting down on unnecessary tests and ER visits. Wasteful health care spending accounts for nearly one-third of annual health care costs in the United States, according to a study by the Harvard Business School.

Shellie Gansz, provider engagement manager for Regence, said, "When you have doctors who are incentivized through quality and improving satisfaction, when you have them focused on the right things, the side effect is lowering costs and improving health care."

Better health for less money. That sounds like a win-win!