Effect of an Imaging-Based Streamlined Electronic Healthcare Process on Quality and Costs
Published in: Academic Radiology, v. 11, no. 1, Jan. 2004, p. 13-20
Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2003
RATIONAL AND OBJECTIVES: A streamlined process of care supported by technology and imaging may be effective in managing the overall healthcare process and costs. This study examined the effect of an imaging-based electronic process of care on costs and rates of hospitalization, emergency room (ER) visits, specialist diagnostic referrals, and patient satisfaction. MATERIALS AND METHODS: A healthcare process was implemented for an employer group, highlighting improved patient access to primary care plus routine use of imaging and teleconsultation with diagnostic specialists. An electronic infrastructure supported patient access to physicians and communication among healthcare providers. The employer group, a self-insured company, manages a healthcare plan for its employees and their dependents: 4,072 employees were enrolled in the test group, and 7,639 in the control group. Outcome measures for expenses and frequency of hospitalizations, ER visits, traditional specialist referrals, primary care visits, and imaging utilization rates were measured using claims data over 1 year. Homogeneity tests of proportions were performed with a chi-square statistic, mean differences were tested by two-sample t-tests. Patient satisfaction with access to healthcare was gauged using results from an independent firm. RESULTS: Overall per member/per month costs post-implementation were lower in the enrolled population ($126 vs $160), even though occurrence of chronic/expensive diseases was higher in the enrolled group (18.8% vs 12.2%). Lower per member/per month costs were seen for inpatient ($33.29 vs $35.59); specialist referrals ($21.36 vs $26.84); and ER visits ($3.68 vs $5.22). Moreover, the utilization rate for hospital admissions, ER visits, and traditional specialist referrals were significantly lower in the enrolled group, although primary care and imaging utilization were higher. Comparison to similar employer groups showed that the company's costs were lower than national averages ($119.24 vs $146.32), indicating that the observed result was not attributable to normalization effects. Patient satisfaction with access to healthcare ranked in the top 21st percentile. CONCLUSION: A streamlined healthcare process supported by technology resulted in higher patient satisfaction and cost savings despite improved access to primary care and higher utilization of imaging.