Segmentation of High-Cost Adults in an Integrated Healthcare System Based on Empirical Clustering of Acute and Chronic Conditions

J Gen Intern Med. 2018 Dec;33(12):2171-2179. doi: 10.1007/s11606-018-4626-0. Epub 2018 Sep 4.


Background: High-cost patients are a frequent focus of improvement projects based on primary care and other settings. Efforts to characterize high-cost, high-need patients are needed to inform care planning, but such efforts often rely on a priori assumptions, masking underlying complexities of a heterogenous population.

Objective: To define recognizable subgroups of patients among high-cost adults based on clinical conditions, and describe their survival and future spending.

Design: Retrospective observational cohort study.

Participants: Within a large integrated delivery system with 2.7 million adult members, we selected the top 1% of continuously enrolled adults with respect to total healthcare expenditures during 2010.

Main measures: We used latent class analysis to identify clusters of alike patients based on 53 hierarchical condition categories. Prognosis as measured by healthcare spending and survival was assessed through 2014 for the resulting classes of patients.

Results: Among 21,183 high-cost adults, seven clinically distinctive subgroups of patients emerged. Classes included end-stage renal disease (12% of high-cost population), cardiopulmonary conditions (17%), diabetes with multiple comorbidities (8%), acute illness superimposed on chronic conditions (11%), conditions requiring highly specialized care (14%), neurologic and catastrophic conditions (5%), and patients with few comorbidities (the largest class, 33%). Over 4 years of follow-up, 6566 (31%) patients died, and survival in the classes ranged from 43 to 88%. Spending regressed to the mean in all classes except the ESRD and diabetes with multiple comorbidities groups.

Conclusions: Data-driven characterization of high-cost adults yielded clinically intuitive classes that were associated with survival and reflected markedly different healthcare needs. Relatively few high-cost patients remain persistently high cost over 4 years. Our results suggest that high-cost patients, while not a monolithic group, can be segmented into few subgroups. These subgroups may be the focus of future work to understand appropriateness of care and design interventions accordingly.

Keywords: comorbidity; health services research; healthcare costs; statistical modeling.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease / economics*
  • Acute Disease / epidemiology
  • Acute Disease / therapy
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Chronic Disease / economics*
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Cohort Studies
  • Delivery of Health Care, Integrated / economics*
  • Delivery of Health Care, Integrated / methods
  • Empirical Research*
  • Female
  • Health Care Costs*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies