We have an opportunity within healthcare to make an impact – a huge impact.

Healthcare costs now consume 18% of the GDP, $3.5 trillion in 2017 (1).  But a very small cohort of individuals account for an inordinate amount of this expenditure – the Department of Health and Human Services informs us that 1% of individuals account for 21% of all healthcare costs (2).  While a portion of these patients have few options other than expensive medical treatments, a significant portion of this cohort struggle with psychosocial issues that are poorly addressed in many communities, resulting in significant unnecessary expenses.  According to 2016 CDC data, almost a fifth of annual emergency department visits, a total of over 24 million visits at a cost of $11.2 billion, are attributed to frequent utilizers – those with 5 or more visits within the prior 12 months.  Amongst frequent ED utilizers nationwide:

  • 30% are homeless
  • 40% have a primary mental health disorder
  • 50% have a primary substance abuse disorder

When these individuals struggle in accessing the service they need and crisis ensues, they come to the one place they know will always be open – their local ED. We are blessed with wonderful emergency medical services throughout our nation, but our ED’s are not designed nor equipped to address these issues.  At best EDs can address the medical crisis that may be immediately at hand, but typically the patient is discharged back into the same environment, and when the next crisis invariably occurs, the cycle repeats itself.

Over the last decade, frequent utilizer programs in New Jersey (3), North Carolina (4), Minnesota (5), Maryland (6), Washington (7), Oregon (8) and Alaska (9) have all demonstrated dramatic success – reductions in hospital utilization varying from 40-60% within a year of program implementation, with dramatic net cost savings, demonstrated in each of these programs, and a cadre of metrics indicating improved quality of care.  Most of these programs are designed around models of care that can be reproducible within almost any community across the country. While each of these programs have components that are customized to communities, there are traits that are shared across all of the programs and other traits that are common amongst many of them, and repeatedly found to bring significant value when implemented.

This is the first of a short series of articles.  We hope in this introductory article we have heightened your awareness of this very important issue our nation is facing.  Over the next few weeks we will be sharing  a series of articles, each of which will highlight each of the following “best practices” shared by successful high utilization programs implemented across our country to date:

  • Staff live in communities being served
  • Community resource engagement
  • Customized patient care plans
  • Common community IT system
  • Immediate access fund
  • At-risk payment models

High utilization patients have suffered for decades as our medical communities have struggled to address their needs.  We now know that we can do better.   We can make a difference – a significant difference.  It is time to make an impact….


  1. National Health Expenditure Data, 2018 – CMS.gov/research-statistics-data-and-systems/statistics-trends-and-reports/nationalhealthexpenddata
  2. Department of Health and Human Services Statistical Brief #421: Differentials in the Concentration in the Level of Health expenditures across Populations Subgroups in the U.S., 2010. file:///Users/papa/Dropbox/CBCS/Articles/Costs%20of%20Utilizer%20Care/AHRQ%20-%20Cost%20of%20Top%201%25,%202010%20-%20STATISTICAL%20BRIEF%20%23421_%20Differentials%20in%20the%20Concentration%20in%20the%20Level%20of%20Health%20Expenditures%20across%20Population%20Subgroups%20in%20the%20U.S.,%202010.htm
  3. Camden Coalition Hot Spotting Program – https://hotspotting.camdenhealth.org/
  4. Community Care of North Carolina – https://www.communitycarenc.org/
  5. Hennepin Health – https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/case-study/2016/oct/hennepin-health-care-delivery-paradigm-new-medicaid-beneficiaries
  6. Health Care Access Maryland –  http://www.healthcareaccessmaryland.org/media-listing/access-health-program-achieves-demonstrable-reductions-in-avoidable-hospital-utilization-by-addressing-social-determinants-of-health-and-linking-residents-with-community-resources/
  7. Consistent Care Program – https://consistentcare.org/
  8. The Health Commons Project – https://oregon.providence.org/our-services/c/center-for-outcomes-research-and-education-core/population-health-dashboards/the-health-commons-project/
  9. Mat-Su Health Foundation HUMS Program – http://www.healthymatsu.org/What-We-Do/Strategies/minds-1.html