Lights, Camera, Community Heart Health

Philip Betbeze, December 8, 2016

The results so far show a general improvement on blood pressure (from 79% of participants at their target blood pressure in 2008 to 84% of participants now). The number of patients with LDL cholesterol levels at their goal for the project improved from 68% to 72%.

Participants' mean triglyceride levels decreased eight points, while the number of patients at goal for triglycerides increased from 66% to 70%, according to the Minnesota Heart Institute Foundation.

The bulk of the improvements occurred in people who were not at goal at baseline, and the cost of care is now 14% below the benchmark of the Allina Health System.

Those apparently modest improvements in statistics represent years of extended life, says Freier. Through that lens, investment of $1 million a year seems like a bargain. But it's never that simple.

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"Most other healthcare systems look at that investment and say that's a nonstarter," says Freier. "I wouldn't expect others to spend that. This was groundbreaking research about how to build this."

Instead, other health systems could fund interventions that the New Ulm project identified as worthwhile. Other systems might be able to do the bulk of monitoring and interventions for as little as $200,000 annually, Freier says.

For New Ulm Medical Center, it also helps that nearly 50% of its revenue is in value-based reimbursement arrangements.

"Sustainability of initiatives like this will take more than direct funding of the healthcare system," Freier says. "What can cities, public health, and schools bring to the table? ROI isn't solely on the back of the healthcare system. It should be a community investment.

"Too often we feel we need to be in control as a healthcare provider, but it has been a great learning experience and has given us so much appreciation for our community leaders," he says. "This could be a national model for population health."

Philip Betbeze

Philip Betbeze is the senior leadership editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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