Delivering better medical care, at $15 an hour

Dan Gorenstein Feb 10, 2014
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Delivering better medical care, at $15 an hour

Dan Gorenstein Feb 10, 2014
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Often, talk of effective medical innovation means something high-tech and high price, but a report out today in the Journal of the American Medical Association highlights one that’s anything but: The low-tech, low-price lay community health worker.

For about $15 an hour, community health workers are doing what much better paid doctors, nurses and social workers struggle to do: keep sick patients from returning to the hospital again and again.

To understand what a community health worker does, let’s talk about a real case — a woman who kept showing up to the hospital with high blood pressure, a little overweight, complaining of chest pain.

“Automatically, people worry she’s having a heart attack,” says Dr. Shreya Kangovi , an internist with the University of Pennsylvania Medical System, and lead author of the new study. “She comes in, she gets stress tests, she gets EKGs, she gets cardiac catheterization she gets medication.”

After six months of expensive hospitalizations, Kangovi says the patient was paired with a community health worker. It was at that point the patient opened up about a sexual assault.

“This had really traumatized her and it was leading to these feelings of panic and social anxiety,” Kangovi says.

Ferreting out the source of the problem, says Kangovi, is really what the patient needed — not going to the hospital every month. In fact, the patient returned just once after that. Kangovi says her randomly controlled trial found high-cost patients who were matched with health workers felt better, and were less likely to be readmitted multiple times.

Economically, this investment is smart, says Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the Maryland Secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

“If getting admitted again and again, each admission is several thousand dollars, then it is pretty easy to save money with that kind of intervention,” he says.

As more pressure is put on hospitals and doctors to save money, the idea of employing these workers is picking up steam.

“We’re proving out right now this is a great idea,” says Bob Koche, a former healthcare advisor to President Obama. “We have a bunch of things done by people that are expensive, like doctors, that can be done by people who are lower cost like community health workers.”

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.