In the olden days, doctors would travel from house to house when community members fell ill. Now, we usually expect patients to come to our office-based clinics. The modern model of care is certainly more efficient for us as physicians. But it’s also a barrier for patients to receive medicine; the highest-risk people usually make it to our clinics after being discharged from their first or second hospitalization, well after high blood pressure or diabetes has already taken its toll on their bodies. Our latest research suggests that we can statistically predict which people are most likely to end up having chronic diseases five or ten years from now. We can pinpoint these people right down to which house they live in. Such predictive models present a new opportunity to prevent disease before it becomes costly or deadly. In this week’s post, we look at a new idea for community-based disease prevention in medicine: the geographical mapping of chronic disease risks, and preemptive visits of healthcare workers to households where people are likely to become ill in the future.
The physician Jeffrey Brenner became famous for piloting a model of healthcare that would attempt to simultaneously improve services while reducing healthcare costs in his city of Camden, New Jersey. His model, recently profiled in Atul Gawande’s popular New Yorker article “The Hot Spotters”, was based on a simple observation: that sick people with poorly-treated diseases tend to be clustered in certain parts of the city.