Medical Homes and Cost and Utilization Among High-Risk Patients

The patient-centered medical home (PCMH) has been advanced as a promising framework for transforming primary care. In 2007, the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Physicians, and American Osteopathic Association issued the “Joint Principles of the Patient-Centered Medical Home,” which outlined the PCMH model. The medical home model emphasizes a team-based approach to primary care, in which a physician-leader coordinates care by other providers across multiple sites and specialties. It encourages increased access, both in terms of expanding practice hours and opening new channels of communication with patients. Organizations such as the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative have initiated numerous pilot programs aimed at studying the impact of PCMH adoption, and the PCMH model was written into the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 as an area for study.

A number of previous studies have shown early promise for the PCMH model as a vehicle for controlling costs and improving the quality of healthcare delivered by primary care practices,including for targeting subpopulations such as children with special health needs. However, reviews often point to the incomplete nature of this work, citing methodological concerns, insufficient time for practices to implement reforms, and inadequate policy support beyond the level of individual practices. This study aims to contribute to this literature by comparing the effects of adopting the PCMH model on the healthcare cost and utilization in the nonpediatric population, using propensity score matching in order to reduce variability in the PCMH and non- PCMH groups studied. Additionally, the analysis employs difference-indifferences regression analysis in order to further control for remaining differences in patients’ characteristics as well as cost and utilization at baseline.

This study aims to assess the impact of PCMH adoption on the patients identified as having the greatest health risks. While the Joint Principles envision the PCMH model as being applicable to all patients, other pilots have targeted only high-risk patients with complex needs.  The high cost of care associated with relatively few individuals makes such targeting a potentially powerful mechanism: one study noted that virtually all of the growth in expenditures for Medicare over the period from 1987 to 2002 occurred among beneficiaries with 5 or more chronic illnesses; another paper noted that only 10% of Medicare beneficiaries accounted for 70% of healthcare costs.  In order to evaluate whether the benefits of medical homes are limited to such high-risk, high-cost subpopulations, this study reports cost and utilization comparisons 2 ways: first, for all matched patients; and subsequently, limited to the patients with risk scores in the 90th percentile or above for the study population. 

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