Medical providers get 'homework' to find savings

Associated Press | 5/27/2009, 5:03 a.m.

Drug interactions are getting attention, he said. A patient can get into trouble when different doctors, each treating a particular problem, prescribe medications that may not work well together. A reaction can send the patient to the emergency room. Doctors must be trained to look out for such problems and head them off.

“How that can save money is by preventing unnecessary readmissions to hospitals,” said Rohack. “The most costly site where patients get care is the hospital.”

Hospitals are working on how to reduce readmissions — “do-overs” in which patients wind up back on the ward a few days after they’re discharged.

“It’s a vulnerability for us if we don’t tackle it,” Richard Umbdenstock, president of the American Hospital Association, told hospital executives during a recent conference call.

These ideas have promise, said cost researcher Fisher.

Medical costs will continue to rise, partly because of an aging population, yet Fisher points out that increases are already more restrained — and sustainable — in some parts of the country.

In the San Francisco area, per person Medicare spending grew 2.4 percent a year from 1992-2006, compared with an average of 5 percent in the Miami area, according to Fisher.

“Spending growth is not a force of nature, like the tides,” said Fisher. “It’s a consequence of human decision-making. Health care cost growth does not have to behave like the tides if we don’t want it to.”

The homework is due back in early June.

Associated Press writer Erica Werner contributed to this report.

(Associated Press)