With the ongoing debate concerning health care in America, many of us are aware that if the national program is not reformed, the cost of care for the aging population will continue to increase significantly in the years to come. That said, a new report published by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, highlights one measure hospitals can take to reduce health care costs by as much as $6 billion a year.
The study focused on “Acute Care for Elders,” or ACE, a program being piloted in 200 hospitals around the country servicing 110,000 patients each year. This program provides individual care for older patients with acute mental illness by placing them in specialized hospital units.
The research team from UCSF conducted a randomized study of 1,632 patients either in ACE or regular inpatient care programs between August 1993 and May 1997. They found that ACE patients spent an average of 0.6 fewer days in the hospital and incurred an average cost of $974 less per patient compared to the control group. If these figures are scaled to the national level, this translates into an approximate 1% decrease in the national health care budget, totaling a savings of $6 billion.
ACE is unique because it employs an interdisciplinary team of clinical staff for each patient. While the number of medical personnel does not differ from traditional care units, the team assesses each patient daily and is able to respond more quickly to patients’ specific needs than traditional care units. Senior author Seth Landefeld says that ACE benefits both hospital staff and patients because it decreases overall work but increases communication between the patient and his or her caretakers. As he says, this is a successful strategy for all involved.
According to Deborah Barnes, a co-author of the study, the most encouraging finding in the study was that regardless of the treatment received, patients released post-hospitalization had similar levels of cognitive function. There was no difference in readmission rates between the two groups. The main issue with ACE is that it may not be a cost-effective program to introduce into smaller hospitals, but those with more than 100 beds would undoubtedly benefit.
ACE can help lower costs on both sides of the health care equation. As the researchers demonstrate, small changes in the way we implement the current health care model can lead to significant savings nationwide.
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