Background: Studies have shown that telephone interventions designed to promote patients' self-management skills and improve patient-physician communication can increase patients' satisfaction and their use of preventive services. The effect of such a strategy on health care costs remains controversial.
Methods: We conducted a stratified, randomized study of 174,120 subjects to assess the effect of a telephone-based care-management strategy on medical costs and resource utilization. Health coaches contacted subjects with selected medical conditions and predicted high health care costs to instruct them about shared decision making, self-care, and behavioral change. The subjects were randomly assigned to either a usual-support group or an enhanced-support group. Although the same telephone intervention was delivered to the two groups, a greater number of subjects in the enhanced-support group were made eligible for coaching through the lowering of cutoff points for predicted future costs and expansion of the number of qualifying health conditions. Primary outcome measures at 1 year were total medical costs and number of hospital admissions.
Results: At baseline, medical costs and resource utilization were similar in the two groups. After 12 months, 10.4% of the enhanced-support group and 3.7% of the usual-support group received the telephone intervention. The average monthly medical and pharmacy costs per person in the enhanced-support group were 3.6% ($7.96) lower than those in the usual-support group ($213.82 vs. $221.78, P=0.05); a 10.1% reduction in annual hospital admissions (P<0.001) accounted for the majority of savings. The cost of this intervention program was less than $2.00 per person per month.
Conclusions: A targeted telephone care-management program was successful in reducing medical costs and hospitalizations in this population-based study. (Funded by Health Dialog Services; ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00793260.)