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Jun 27, 2011

Better-informed Patients Mean Lower Healthcare Costs

Better patient education cuts Medicare costs by 20 percent.

A recent study at Harvard University showed that informing Medicare patients more effectively about their health, medical conditions and medications can help reduce healthcare costs by roughly 20 percent. Why? It appears that many Medicare patients do not understand the healthcare that they are receiving or need, which leads to poor follow-up and frequent return trips to the hospital. This revolving door has proven extremely costly, with Medicare spending $17 billion annually on patients readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of their initial visit.

So what can be done to lower these costs? Based on Harvard’s findings, taking steps to improve communication between patients and providers can have a big impact on the bottom line. First, providers must ensure that patients understand their health condition and treatment options. Many Medicare patients do not fully comprehend what is wrong with them, which makes improving their health condition difficult. Second, safety precautions must be taken regarding prescriptions. Healthcare professionals should check prescriptions after receiving them from a doctor, to ensure that the new medication does not conflict with current ones. And to help patients remember what medications they are on, physicians should give patients copies of all their medications so that they can bring that information to any future appointments. Lastly, patients must receive the long-term care that they require. By sending patients to a healthcare facility following a hospital visit, patients not only receive the follow-up care they need but also a place to return to if they get sick again, as an alternative to the hospital.

Taking these extra steps to improve patient care for Medicare patients is a win-win situation. Not only will the health of patients improve, but Medicare will save billions of dollars in avoided hospital costs.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How many people were part of this Medicare study?

  • Over 1,600 patients participated in this study. Half received care before the improvements were made in patient care as mentioned above, while the second half received the improved care.
  • Why do Medicare patients often not understand their health conditions?
  • Due to time constraints, doctors often cannot spend the time that they would like on each individual patient, particularly in a hospital setting. Therefore, patients may not receive the time that they need to adequately understand their health issue and the treatment recommended to them. Many other factors may also contribute to this problem, such as language barriers and a lack of medical knowledge.