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Denver Health’s 4-Tier Focus on Super-Utilizers

​Health care leaders know all too well that a very small number of patients use an outsize proportion of medical services. By creatively addressing the needs of these patients, Denver Health has not only improved their care, but has also cut millions of dollars in health care costs over a two-year period, says Chief Quality Officer Thomas MacKenzie, M.D.  
Much of the impetus for Denver Health’s shift in priorities came from a report out of Camden, N.J., which found that just 1 percent of the city’s population accounted for 30 percent of its health care costs. In a 2011 article in The New Yorker, Atul Gawande, M.D.,chronicled how Camden health care leaders developed a comprehensive program to identify and serve those super-utilizers.
“In that article, he really described well the dilemma we face in terms of [continually confronting] chronic medical conditions,” recalls MacKenzie, who is an internal medicine doctor and also teaches at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Inspired by the story, “we set out to avoid high-cost utilizations that we felt were preventable,” McKenzie says.