Ezra Klein worries that Medicare is missing a big opportunity by discontinuing support for Health Quality Partners, which provides chronically-ill Medicare patients with regular home visits from a professional nurse and has dramatically reduced those patients’ hospitalizations and Medicare costs:
I asked a half-dozen seniors what difference Health Quality Partners made in their lives. Every one of them began the same way: They could ask their nurse questions, they said with evident relief. They could get help understanding and navigating their doctor’s orders. They didn’t feel like they were being a burden if they needed to ask one more thing, or have their medications explained to them again.
Ezra zooms in on importance of the 33% reduction in hospitalizations among Health Quality Partners patient pool:
If there is a secret to the success of Health Quality Partners at preventing hospitalizations, it’s this: No one else is checking in with [elderly couples like] the Bradfields or the Allens every week. Medical technology — from pills to devices to surgical procedures — is so advanced and so competitive that making further gains requires enormous investment and rarely brings high returns. But the exciting field of knocking-on-the-Bradfield’s-farmhouse-door is almost totally empty. Medicine has been so focused on what doctors can do in the hospital that it has barely even begun to figure out what can be done in the home. But the home is where elderly patients spend most of their time. It’s where they take their medicine and eat their meals, and it’s where they fall into funks and trip over the corner of the carpet. It’s where a trained medical professional can see a bad turn before it turns into a catastrophe. Medicine, however, has been reluctant to intrude into homes.
For the most part, the medical system treats the old very much like it treats the young. It cares for them when they’re sick and ignores them when they’re well. Coburn’s basic insight is a discomfiting one. He doesn’t really believe in “better,” at least not for elderly, chronically ill patients. He wants someone going over frequently to see if they’re depressed, if their color is good, if they understand their medications, if there’s anything they need. This isn’t medicine so much as it’s supervision.