Practice Management

Breaking the high-utilization cycle


Hospitalists know that a small percentage of patients account for a disproportionately large percentage of overall health care spending, much of which comes from inpatient admissions. Many programs have been developed around the country to work with this population, and most of these programs are – appropriately – outpatient based.

“However, a subset of frequently admitted patients either don’t make it to outpatient care or are unengaged with outpatient care and programs, for whom hospital stays can give us a unique opportunity to coordinate and streamline care, and to build trust that can then lead to increased patient engagement,” said Kirstin Knox, MD, PhD, of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and lead author of an abstract describing a method to address this challenge. “Our program works with these patients, the ‘outliers among the outliers’ to re-engage them in care, streamline admissions, coordinate inpatient and outpatient care, and address the underlying barriers/drivers that lead to frequent hospitalization.”

Their program designed and implemented a multidisciplinary intervention targeting the highest utilizers on their inpatient general medicine service. Each was assigned an inpatient continuity team, and the patient case was then presented to a multidisciplinary high-utilizer care committee that included physicians, nurses, and social workers, as well as representatives from a community health worker program, home care, and risk management to develop a care plan.

Analysis comparing the 6 months before and after intervention showed admissions and total hospital days were reduced by 55% and 47% respectively, and 30-day readmissions were reduced by 65%. Total direct costs were reduced from $2,923,000 to $1,284,000.

The top takeaway, Dr. Knox said, is that, through efforts to coordinate care and address underlying drivers of high utilization, hospital-based programs for the most frequently admitted patients can streamline inpatient care and decrease utilization for many high-risk, high-cost patients.

“I hope that hospitalists will consider starting inpatient-based high-utilizer programs at their own institutions, if they haven’t already,” she said. “Even starting with one or two of your most frequently admitted patients can be incredibly eye opening, and streamlining/coordinating care (as well as working overtime to address the underlying drivers/barriers that lead to high utilization) for these patients is incredibly rewarding.”


Knox K et al. Breaking the cycle: a successful inpatient based intervention for hospital high utilizers. Abstract published at Hospital Medicine 2018; Apr 8-11; Orlando, Fla., Abstract 319. Accessed 2018 Oct 2.

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