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Hotspotting, Superutilizers, and Avoiding “RTM Traps”

Thomas Wilson
Vince Kuraitis

By THOMAS WILSON PhD, DrPH and VINCE KURAITIS JD, MBA

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported on the results of a “hotspotting” program created by the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers (Camden Coalition). Hotspotting targets interventions at all or a subset of healthcare superutilizers – the 5% of patients that account for 50% of annual healthcare spending.

The results of the study were disappointing. While utilization (hospital readmissions) declined for the hotspotting group, the declines were almost identical in the control group.  At least three headlines implied that the conclusion of the study was that hotspotting care management approaches have been proven not to work:

“’Hot spotting’ doesn’t work. So what does?” Politico Pulse

“Reduce Health Costs By Nurturing The Sickest? A Much-Touted Idea Disappoints.” NPR

“Hotspotting” Apparently Doesn’t Reduce Superutilizers’ Readmissions” NEJM Journal Watch

NOT SO FAST!

As we’ll explain, we believe that much of what’s going on here can be explained by one or both of what we call “RTM Traps” (regression to the mean traps).

In this essay, we will:

  • Define RTM (regression to the mean)
  • Explain the RTM Traps and how many have fallen into the traps
  • Suggest how to avoid the RTM Traps

We believe our POV is relevant to clinical, technical, and executive staff in the many organizations focusing on the superutilizer population – hospitals, physicians, ACOs, health plans, community groups, etc.

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