For many patients who use large amounts of health care services, the need is intense yet temporary

Health Aff (Millwood). 2015 Aug;34(8):1312-9. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2014.1186.


Patients who accumulate multiple emergency department visits and hospital admissions, known as super-utilizers, have become the focus of policy initiatives aimed at preventing such costly use of the health care system through less expensive community- and primary care-based interventions. We conducted cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses of 4,774 publicly insured or uninsured super-utilizers in an urban safety-net integrated delivery system for the period May 1, 2011-April 30, 2013. Our analysis found that consistently 3 percent of adult patients met super-utilizer criteria and accounted for 30 percent of adult charges. Fewer than half of super-utilizers identified as such on May 1, 2011, remained in the category seven months later, and only 28 percent remained at the end of a year. This finding has important implications for program design and for policy makers because previous studies may have obscured this instability at the individual level. Our study also identified clinically relevant subgroups amenable to different interventions, along with their per capita utilization and costs before and after being identified as super-utilizers. Future solutions include improving predictive modeling to identify individuals likely to experience sustained levels of avoidable utilization, better classifying subgroups for whom interventions are needed, and implementing stronger program evaluation designs.

Keywords: Cost of Health Care; Determinants Of Health; Health Spending; Organization and Delivery of Care; Safety-Net Systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Colorado
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Health Expenditures*
  • Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Hospital Charges / trends
  • Hospitalization / economics
  • Hospitalization / trends
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Medically Uninsured
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Urban Population