Study Questions the Effectiveness of Medical Homes

The medical home has become a new model to produce better and lower-cost primary health care. But a Rand study found that medical homes yielded few improvements in the quality of care and no reductions in hospitalizations, emergency department visits, or total costs of care.

Medical homes are primary care practices that are designed to provide comprehensive, personalized, team-based care using patient registries, electronic health records, and other advanced capabilities. Recent medical home initiatives have encouraged primary care practices to invest in these new capabilities, participate in learning collaboratives, and achieve medical home recognition. Health plans offer to pay more to the practices that achieve recognition.

Researchers evaluated the Southeastern Pennsylvania Chronic Care Initiative. Thirty-two primary care practices and six health plans participated in the pilot from 2008 to 2011. Pilot practices adopted medical home capabilities, such as creating lists of patients who are overdue for the services they need. The medical homes did see improved rates for monitoring for kidney disease in diabetes patients, and there were signs that quality improved for some other aspects of diabetes care.  However, there were no improvements in the quality measures for asthma care, cancer screening, and control of diabetes. Also, there was no reduction in the use of hospitals or emergency departments, or the total costs of medical care.

Researchers say there are several reasons that the medical home pilot did not show broader improvements in cost and quality. The pilot emphasized quality of care for diabetes and asthma. But practices did not have the financial incentives to contain costs. While most participating practices adopted new capabilities that targeted quality of care, fewer increased night and weekend hours, which could have reduced unnecessary visits to the emergency room. Because the pilot practices volunteered for the medical home experiment, they may have been more quality-conscious than other practices even before the pilot began, which would limit possible improvements. For more information, visithttp://www.rand.org/newsletters.html.

Last Updated 11/18/2020

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