12 October 2011

Doctor Hotspot

The most expensive place in the hospital to receive health care is in the Emergency Department. Federal laws mandate that hospitals treat critically ill patients regardless of their ability to pay, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill.

A pioneering family practitioner, Dr. Jeffrey Brenner, found that a small handful of patients in his city of Camden, NJ were responsible for a disproportionate share of ER costs. He decided to provide those patients with primary care, keeping them out of the hospital, with substantial savings to the public. Among his innovations are including "health coaches" on his medical staff, who befriend and encourage the patients to follow their health regimens.

FRONTLINE, my favorite TV program, teamed up with Dr. Atul Gawande, my favorite medical writer, for this 15-minute documentary on Brenner's work.

Watch Doctor Hotspot on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Gawande also wrote a longer piece for the New Yorker last year.

Dr. Brenner's model is exciting because it highlights the likely strengths of a robust primary-care system: cost savings and better health.