Nightly News   |  November 30, 2013

Revamping the house call to reduce health care costs

Minnesota's North Memorial Health Care system is sending paramedics on house calls with the hopes of reducing emergency room admissions and keep people healthier. NBC's Nancy Snyderman reports.

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>>> with millions of people focused on health care and the government's new insurance program we want to tell you about a novel approach to bringing medical costs down. it involves a variation on what used to be a common practice in this country -- the house call . our report tonight from nbc's chief medical editor dr. nancy snyderman .

>> reporter: visits to the emergency room are skyrocketing. about 130 million a year.

>> i'm going to listen to you, too.

>> anybody can be seen. so i think in our country now a big thing is that the emergency department is the safety net for people without insurance.

>> reporter: it is a tremendous burden on hospitals struggling to keep costs down.

>> 81-year-old lady here with shortness of breath.

>> reporter: that's why minnesota's north memorial health care system is among the first in the country to test a new approach they think may reduce admissions and keep people healthier. they are sending paramedics on house calls to patients with chronic conditions like diabetes and asthma who may otherwise go to the e.r.

>> you get to spend more time with them, find out what's going on, what's bothering them. what they need help with. how are you today?

>> reporter: chris anderson is among the first group of paramedics specially trained to make house calls . he checks in on patients like victoria, helping her with her medications and blood tests, things she used to visit the emergency room for.

>> you're in better shape than i am.

>> reporter: the project started in october after hospital officials referred people who use the emergency room nine or more times a year. north memorial's chief medical officer dr. kevin crosston says the number of repeat patients is often staggering.

>> some patients are here 23 times in a month.

>> reporter: since then paramedics made more than 1,000 home visits at a fraction of the cost for a trip to the e.r. barb andrews runs the program.

>> it gives us as paramedics an opportunity to be proactive rather than reactive.

>> reporter: and says it is a new way to think about the role of first responders in caring for patients.

>> see you next week.

>> empower them to manage their own health better in the home. keep them out of the nursing home . keep them out of the hospital.

>> reporter: north memorial doesn't have data on the cost savings yet but believes the program will reduce admissions and give better care to the chronically ill. that's better for everyone in the long run. dr. nancy snyderman , nbc news, new york.