Blessed are the cost-cutters

    In the dark sea of depressing news about health care, Atul Gawande offers a beacon of hope.

    Gawande is the surgeon and staff writer for The New Yorker who wrote a 2009 article that President Obama made required reading in the White House.

    It was about the high cost of health care in McAllen, Texas, where Gawande found doctors ordered more tests and procedures than other places, increasing their incomes but leading to poorer outcomes for patients.

    The point: Eliminate unnecessary care, and we might save money and take better care of the afflicted.

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    The piece was controversial, but now Gawande has a fascinating new look at innovative health care providers who are actually reducing costs by taking better care of people.

    Gawande is my guest on Fresh Air today, talking about his New Yorker piece “The Hot Spotters,” named for his subjects’ focus on the small number of patients who generate enormous medical costs – the health care “hot spots.”

    Gawande finds those patients tend to be poor and chronically-ill, the ones who show up in emergency rooms and then stay for days or weeks in hospital beds and intensive care units.

    Gawande writes that smart providers in Camden and Atlantic City New Jersey are giving those patients more attention – much of it from people other than doctors – and in the process improving their health and cutting medical costs.

    I also ask Gawande whether incentives and programs in the health care reform law will encourage the growth of alternative models of practice.

    You can hear his answer today at 3 and 7 p.m on 91FM. If you’re outside the Philly area, find a station here. And you can listen any time on the Fresh Air website.

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