Patient medical group continuity and healthcare utilization
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OBJECTIVES: To measure continuity among medical groups of insured patients over a 5-year period and to test whether group continuity of care is associated with healthcare utilization and costs. STUDY DESIGN: Retrospective observational study. METHODS: We studied natural patient behavior by using insurance claims data in the absence of any medical group or health plan incentives for continuity. We conducted the study through a retrospective analysis of administrative data of 121,780 patients enrolled from 2005 to 2009 in HealthPartners, a large nonprofit Minnesota health plan. Each year, patients were attributed to the medical group where they received the greatest number of primary care visits. Multilevel multiple regression models were used to estimate the association of annualized medical cost and utilization with attribution and continuity categories. RESULTS: Although patients with high medical group continuity were older and had more comorbidities than patients with medium or low continuity of care, they had a consistently lower probability of any inpatient expenditure or any emergency department (ED) utilization and lower total medical costs. CONCLUSIONS: Although a small proportion, health plan members who visited a primary care provider but had low or medium continuity among medical groups had higher inpatient and ED use than those with high continuity. Improved coordination and integration has potential to lower utilization and costs in this group.