What Is Patient “Hotspotting” and Can It Reduce the Price of Care?

“Hotspotting” has become quite a buzzword in the healthcare setting lately, as providers continue to search for ways to improve the quality of services patients receive. Much like a local business would target customers in the neighborhood, hotspotting refers to healthcare providers targeting their highest-risk patients to elevate their quality of care.

The idea is that hotspotting will enable providers to diagnose and treat conditions earlier and engage in more consistent follow-ups, ultimately improving patients’ health and reducing costs. People who fall into these targeted groups (“hot spots”) are those who require more medical attention than the average patient.

However, a recent study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows that hotspotting may not be as effective when it comes to reducing the price of care as providers once hoped. Find out how it works and whether it will benefit your practice and your patients.

What Is Patient Hotspotting?

The more data you collect on your patients, the better you can anticipate their future healthcare needs. At least, that’s the main idea behind patient hotspotting. Using software from a third-party provider, your practice could utilize your patient data to focus on high-risk patients.

Typically referred to as “super-utilizers,” these patients tend to utilize more healthcare services than others. Although this group of people makes up only around 5% of patients in the U.S., they typically account for around half of the country’s healthcare costs. They may be older, have less money, suffer from one or multiple chronic conditions, or face other healthcare concerns such as addiction, substance abuse, poor diet, and a lack of physical activity.

By targeting the sickest or most at-risk patients in the community, you and your colleagues can do everything possible to improve rehabilitation, limit future emergencies, and reduce readmission rates for these patients. Risk mitigation strategies may include:

  • constant patient-provider communication with telehealth or remote patient monitoring
  • home care visits
  • preventative healthcare services
  • increased coordination with the patient’s other healthcare providers
  • improved access to non-medical social services, such as housing, education, counselling and mental health, addiction services, and emotional support

Does It Actually Work?

As promising as this idea might seem, hotspotting patients may not be all it’s cracked up to be. A recent study at MIT shows virtually no discernable difference between patients that were targeted and those that were not. The study was completed in cooperation with the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, one of the nation’s largest patient hotspotting programs.

Researchers looked at 800 patients currently enrolled in the program. These patients had been admitted to a hospital within the last six months at the time of the study. They were also living with at least two chronic conditions, among other healthcare issues.

Half of the patients were placed in a group that used the program’s hotspotting services, and half were in a control group that did not take part in the program. Camden’s hotspotting program includes home healthcare visits, increased patient communication, and medical monitoring services.

At the end of the study, researchers found that the 180-day hospital readmission rate was 62.3% for people in the program and 61.7% for those that were not in the program. Various statistics, including the average patient length of stay, aggregate number of days spent in the hospital, as well as financial statistics, were similar between the two groups.

Based on these results, patient hotspotting may leave something to be desired when it comes to reducing the price of care. The Camden program did little to reduce hospital readmission rates.

There may be several factors to account for this. Super-utilizers will likely continue using medical services, regardless of whether they are being targeted by local healthcare providers. Home healthcare visits and increased patient communication may only do so much to reduce readmission rates.

Furthermore, some high-risk patients may naturally use fewer healthcare services as time goes on. For example, if someone currently needs a lot of medical care, they will likely use less in the future as they recover from their illness, surgery, or condition.

Final Takeaways

Patient hotspotting may be more trouble than it’s worth, but staying in touch with your patients, particularly those with multiple chronic conditions, is always a good idea. Reach out to some of your sickest patients to make sure they are getting the support they need. Use remote patient monitoring to keep an eye on high-risk patients and those recovering from surgery.

Talk to some of your “super-utilizers” and see if they need additional support from the community, such as free or low-cost housing, mental healthcare, free hygiene and personal care items, addiction treatment, and other non-medical services.

Keep these ideas in mind to provide premium medical care to those who rely on you, regardless of whether or not you invest in patient hotspotting.

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