Super-utilizers: LTC has them too

Here’s my latest article on McKnight’s Long-Term Care News:


Super-utilizers: LTC has them too

I was flying home after visiting some family elders last week (a story itself perhaps for another time) when I happened upon a Kaiser Health News article about “super-utilizers” of emergency room services.

Research on Medi-Cal, California’s state health insurance for those with limited income, found that 1% of the patient population accounted for about one-fourth of the healthcare spending.

The reason: Super-utilizers were more often homeless and had substance abuse and mental health problems.

This echoes my experience working as a case manager for a managed care organization years ago. For the particular account I was working on, the mental health managers had access to both the medical and mental health data.

My main observation was that those with the highest medical costs were also those who had been in and out of rehab for substance abuse. The problem was that because our company was a “mental health carve-out,” with HIPAA-protected information, we couldn’t share that information with the medical team.

“Ask them if they’ve been drinking!” I wanted to shout, when I saw they were getting readmitted to the medical hospital for the third time in two months.

It’s a question we might consider asking in long-term care too (along with checking on psychiatric medications). The “super-utilizer” problem affects us in ways that may be less obvious but just as costly.

The super-utilizer in long-term care

Our super-utilizer of services is a resident who exhibits behaviors due to a mental health or substance problem that results in a series of staff meetings and discussions that takes time away from other residents.

It could be someone who needs repeated psychiatric hospitalizations because of psychiatric medication changes during the transition from home to medical hospital to skilled nursing, or an individual ready to be discharged after rehab but difficult to place due to comorbid physical and mental health needs. (A problem also faced in psychiatric hospitals, by the way, when a now-stable patient has comorbid physical health needs.)

Families can be super-utilizers of services. Consider the time-consuming challenges when a substance-abusing relative is found to be taking money from a resident or a discharge home is deemed unsafe because of a mentally unstable family member. I guarantee that’s not a one-meeting decision.

Reducing expense of super-utilizers

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Super-utilizers: LTC has them too


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