Improving Care and Reducing Costs

Photo: Money and sthetoscope

The costs of the system's current
inefficiency underscore the urgent
need for a systemwide trans-

However, the knowledge and tools exist to put the health system on the right course to achieve continuous improvement and better quality care at lower cost, added the committee of the study.

The costs of the system's current inefficiency underscore the urgent need for a systemwide transformation. The committee calculated that about 30 percent of health spending in 2009 - roughly 750 billion Dollars - was wasted on unnecessary services, excessive administrative costs, fraud, and other problems. Moreover, inefficiencies cause needless suffering. By one estimate, roughly 75,000 deaths might have been averted in 2005 if every state had delivered care at the quality level of the best performing state.

Incremental upgrades and changes by individual hospitals or providers will not suffice, the committee said. Achieving higher quality care at lower cost will require an across-the-board commitment to transform the U.S. health system into a "learning" system that continuously improves by systematically capturing and broadly disseminating lessons from every care experience and new research discovery. It will necessitate embracing new technologies to collect and tap clinical data at the point of care, engaging patients and their families as partners, and establishing greater teamwork and transparency within health care organizations. Also, incentives and payment systems should emphasize the value and outcomes of care.

"The threats to Americans' health and economic security are clear and compelling, and it's time to get all hands on deck," said committee chair Mark D. Smith of California HealthCare Foundation, Oakland. "Our health care system lags in its ability to adapt, affordably meet patients' needs, and consistently achieve better outcomes. But we have the know-how and technology to make substantial improvement on costs and quality. Our report offers the vision and road map to create a learning health care system that will provide higher quality and greater value."

The ways that health care providers currently train, practice, and learn new information cannot keep pace with the flood of research discoveries and technological advances, the report says. How health care organizations approach care delivery and how providers are paid for their services also often lead to inefficiencies and lower effectiveness and may hinder improvement.

Better use of data is a critical element of a continuously improving health system. About 75 million Americans have more than one chronic condition, requiring coordination among multiple specialists and therapies, which can increase the potential for miscommunication, misdiagnosis, potentially conflicting interventions, and dangerous drug interactions. Health professionals and patients frequently lack relevant and useful information at the point of care where decisions are made. And it can take years for new breakthroughs to gain widespread adoption; for example, it took 13 years for the use of beta blockers to become standard practice after they were shown to improve survival rates for heart attack victims.; Source: National Academies