A cluster-based approach for integrating clinical management of Medicare beneficiaries with multiple chronic conditions

Background

Approximately 28% of adults have ≥3 chronic conditions (CCs), accounting for two-thirds of U.S. healthcare costs, and often having suboptimal outcomes. Despite Institute of Medicine recommendations in 2001 to integrate guidelines for multiple CCs, progress is minimal. The vast number of unique combinations of CCs may limit progress.

Methods and findings

To determine whether major CCs segregate differentially in limited groups, electronic health record and Medicare paid claims data were examined in one accountable care organization with 44,645 Medicare beneficiaries continuously enrolled throughout 2015. CCs predicting clinical outcomes were obtained from diagnostic codes. Agglomerative hierarchical clustering defined 13 groups having similar within group patterns of CCs and named for the most common CC. Two groups, congestive heart failure (CHF) and kidney disease (CKD), included 23% of beneficiaries with a very high CC burden (10.5 and 8.1 CCs/beneficiary, respectively). Five groups with 54% of beneficiaries had a high CC burden ranging from 7.1 to 5.9 (descending order: neurological, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular, chronic pulmonary). Six groups with 23% of beneficiaries had an intermediate-low CC burden ranging from 4.7 to 0.4 (behavioral health, obesity, osteoarthritis, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, ‘other’). Hypertension and hyperlipidemia were common across groups, whereas 80% of CHF segregated to the CHF group, 85% of CKD to CKD and CHF groups, 82% of cancer to Cancer, CHF, and CKD groups, and 85% of neurological disorders to Neuro, CHF, and CKD groups. Behavioral health diagnoses were common only in groups with a high CC burden. The number of CCs/beneficiary explained 36% of the variance (R2 = 0.36) in claims paid/beneficiary.

Conclusions

Identifying a limited number of groups with high burdens of CCs that disproportionately drive costs may help inform a practical number of integrated guidelines and resources required for comprehensive management. Cluster informed guideline integration may improve care quality and outcomes, while reducing costs.