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What is high-value care?

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The concept of value is not one that can be measured precisely. Value may mean different things to different people, depending on their situation and perspective. A conversation with two physicians conducted by AAFP recently helps clarify what high-value care means to providers and their patients.

The conversation with Kyle Leggott, M.D., a family physician doing a fellowship in health politics and policy at the University of Colorado, and Allison Edwards, M.D., a direct primary care practice owner in Kansas City, Kan., was conducted in response to a study published in the American Journal of Managed Care (AJMC) that “found that getting rid of cost-sharing for primary care actually saves money and reduces utilization.” An editorial followed the article, in which the writer asserted that unlimited, unrestricted access to primary care would lead to increased unnecessary care.

Dr. Leggott and Dr. Edwards pointed out that the value of care stems from the relationship that the physician and patient are able to establish as well as the decisions made collaboratively by provider and patient rather than by third-party entities. Dr. Leggott commented that “A patient’s access to a family physician shouldn’t increase costs if the patient and physician are working together to spend health care dollars appropriately.”

Dr. Edwards further explained that “high-value” care may be seen differently by different people. She gave an example of a patient who was prescribed a very expensive medication that he was not able to take as an outpatient because of the cost. The prescription was seen as high value based on its evidence-based success in treating a certain condition and reducing readmission; however, to the patient who could not afford the drug, the prescription was essentially worthless.

Understanding the cost of treatment and prescriptions is critical for the provider and the patient, to determine what truly will be high-value care for that particular patient. The physician who knows the patient well enough to recognize what is feasible and reasonable for that patient will be more successful in providing that high-value care. As Dr. Edwards emphasizes, “The discussion about value-based care is incredibly nuanced because it requires that we be rigid with our definition of value, and in reality, life doesn’t play out that way.”