How one health system delivers quality care while saving taxpayers millions
As the election has captured Americans' attention, the pandemic continues and the Supreme Court considers the future of the Affordable Care Act, candidates across the country had the cost of health care at the top of their minds.
You probably do, too.
Individuals, families, employers and the government are all struggling to pay for the high-quality care that Americans deserve. It's a visceral issue for almost everyone because when you get sick, you want to reserve your energy for focusing on your health and your family, not on your wallet.
Leading providers like Advocate Aurora Health are not waiting for politicians to sort this out.
It's why we've spent years reducing unnecessary costs and investing those savings in safety measures. It's why we were an early leader in creating Accountable Care Organizations, vehicles that push hospitals and doctors to coordinate and be held more responsible for the cost and quality of patients' health care.
We've been coordinating care longer and better than anyone in the region, first entering risk-based contracts in the mid-1980sâ€"well ahead of most of the industry. As early adopters, we've seen how care coordination can help lower the total cost of care for patients and their employers.
These efforts aren't just talk. We have results to prove it.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has announced that Advocate Aurora Health's three affiliated Accountable Care Organizations last year combined to save taxpayers $85.7 million through the Medicare Shared Savings Program. That's the most of any integrated health system in the country and beats our previous year's mark by more than $23 million. Those big numbers are from just one program, but we care for 1.3 million people in value-based contracts like this one. Our scale helps us drive big results.
We have thousands of primary care doctors and specialists spread across two states who can help coordinate a patient's care. We've invested in the technology and infrastructure needed to better manage patients' chronic diseases, so they can spend more time at home with their families and at work with their colleagues. We've also invested in initiatives to assist patients experiencing food insecurity, housing insecurity and other factors that contribute to unnecessary health care use.
In our ACOs, care is coordinated by teams of experts who help guide patients through the process of getting better so that their ailments don't define them. We have care managers, social workers, pharmacists and others who help people get over barriers that might be preventing access to medications, specialty visits or other care that they need. These teams also ensure smooth transitions between levels of care.
This network has been critically important to how Advocate Aurora has cared for our patients during the ongoing pandemic. The extraordinary challenges of COVID-19 have pushed us to innovate faster, greatly expanding our capacity for telehealth in the process. Virtual medicine is just the latest tool to help us stay in touch with patients and give them a way to easily access care.
To continue our strong record of keeping patients healthy during these uncertain times, we want to see you for visits like annual health and wellness exams. These visits, which might lead to follow-ups with specialists or a new technology-enabled screening or procedure, can prevent catastrophic health problems and emergency room visits before they dramatically impact your life, work and family.
That's why it's critical not to delay these appointments, even as the pandemic continues. You can trust the measures we've put in place through our Safe Care Promise, including universal masking and enhanced cleaning of our facilities, to keep you safe when you visit us.
We know it's not always easy to prioritize your health and take the time to see your doctors. But your upfront effort today can save time and money over the long run while helping you live well. We think that's an investment well worth making.
• Dr. Gary Stuck is Advocate Aurora Health chief medical officer.