Objective: To assess the evidence for the effect of disease management on quality of care, disease control, and cost, with a focus on population-based programs.
Study design: Literature review.
Methods: We conducted a literature search for and a structured review of studies on population-based disease management programs, as well as for reviews and meta-analyses of disease management interventions. We identified 3 evaluations of large-scale population-based programs, as well as 10 meta-analyses and 16 systematic reviews, covering 317 unique studies.
Results: We found consistent evidence that disease management improves processes of care and disease control but no conclusive support for its effect on health outcomes. Overall, disease management does not seem to affect utilization except for a reduction in hospitalization rates among patients with congestive heart failure and an increase in outpatient care and prescription drug use among patients with depression. When the costs of the intervention were appropriately accounted for and subtracted from any savings, there was no conclusive evidence that disease management leads to a net reduction of direct medical costs.
Conclusions: Although disease management seems to improve quality of care, its effect on cost is uncertain. Most of the evidence to date addresses small-scale programs targeting high-risk individuals, while only 3 studies evaluate large population-based interventions, implying that little is known about their effect. Payers and policy makers should remain skeptical about vendor claims and should demand supporting evidence based on transparent and scientifically sound methods.