Community-Based Health Education Programs Designed to Improve Clinical Measures Are Unlikely to Reduce Short-Term Costs or Utilization Without Additional Features Targeting These Outcomes
Stakeholders often expect programs for persons with chronic conditions to bend the cost curve. This study assessed whether a diabetes self-management education (DSME) program offered as part of a multicomponent initiative could affect emergency department (ED) visits, hospital stays, and the associated costs for an underserved population in addition to the clinical indicators that DSME programs attempt to improve. The program was implemented in Camden, New Jersey, by the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers to address disparities in diabetes care. Data used are from medical records and from patient-level information about hospital services from Camden's hospitals. Using multivariate regression models to control for individual characteristics, changes in utilization over time and changes relative to 2 comparison groups were assessed. No reductions in ED visits, inpatient stays, or costs for participants were found over time or relative to the comparison groups. High utilization rates and costs for diabetes are associated with longer term disease progression and its sequelae; thus, DSME or peer support may not affect these in the near term. Some clinical indicators improved among participants, and these might lead to fewer costly adverse health events in the future. DSME deployed at the community level, without explicit segmentation and targeting of high health care utilizers or without components designed to affect costs and utilization, should not be expected to reduce short-term medical needs for participating individuals or care-seeking behaviors such that utilization is reduced. Stakeholders must include financial outcomes in a program's design if those outcomes are to improve.