Better Health Care for Less

If your primary care doctor is within thirty miles of Bennington, it’s likely that you are receiving one of the best benefits of health care reform, and you may not even know it. Almost all of the primary care offices in Bennington County are Vermont Blueprint for Health Patient-Centered Medical Homes. In fact, the primary care practices in our area were among the first in Vermont to test the Blueprint concept.

The Blueprint for Health is an initiative started in Vermont more than eight years ago to help those with long-term health conditions take control of their health and live better lives. A Medical Home designation means the primary care office also provides access to more specialized services—such as diabetes educators, dieticians, and mental health counselors—right in their offices.

The Blueprint also provides a nurse case manager who helps coordinate all of the health care services you may need. Nurse case managers may remind you about getting your recommended immunizations, scheduling wellness checks, or they may connect you with other health resources in the community—such as attending a Healthier Living Workshop or Smoking Cessation class or using the services of a home health agency.

It’s no surprise that offering more support and convenience relates to better health outcomes and higher satisfaction with your health care services. Evidence has proved that offering people more support to stay healthy actually results in less medical care spending overall.

When you and your family members get the care you need to keep you healthy, you are less likely to visit the Emergency Room. In fact, people living in the Blueprint’s Bennington service area — which includes about 100,000 persons in Vermont’s Bennington and Windham Counties, Massachusetts’s Northern Berkshire County, and parts of New York —have the fewest number of Emergency Room visits in the state. The area also has the fewest hospital readmissions statewide.

And because primary care office visits are a lot less expensive than Emergency Room visits and hospital stays, we all save. Generally, people in Blueprint practices have medical care cost that are about $500 less per year than patients of non-Blueprint practices. Multiply that $500 savings by 100,000 people, and we are saving millions.

Maybe we are spending less because we are healthier than other people, you say? This is not necessarily so. Many of the individuals in the Bennington service area are dealing with socioeconomic and health factors that put them at greater risk for higher health care costs.

And it’s not because we don’t go to the doctor as much either. Bennington area residents use about the same volume of medical care services as people in other Blueprint service areas. The savings is real.

For those of us living in Bennington’s service area, we are leading the way statewide with better health care and lower health care costs. That is the basis of health care reform in Vermont and may soon become the standard in other areas of the country.

Jennifer Fels, MS, RN, is the director of Bennington Blueprint. For more information, contact “Health Matters” is a weekly column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care.