Too Good to Be True?

In my previous blog post, I described the work of the Mobile Team for the Elderly in Uppsala, Sweden, a municipality of two hundred thousand. In this blog post, I will discuss some of the tangible benefits of the Mobile Team to the municipality, to patients, and to patients’ families.

Mobile Team Photo

Before I get started, I want to explain how healthcare and government is managed and financed in Sweden. Sweden is organized into municipalities. Several municipalities comprise each county. Uppsala County includes eight municipalities, including a municipality called Uppsala municipality (see the maps below). Uppsala County manages healthcare provision for all citizens in the county. The County Council in Uppsala is the payer of healthcare in the county. An autonomous government governs each Swedish municipality. Municipalities are responsible for social care for the elderly. The Mobile Service offers healthcare to the elderly, thus touching on the responsibility of both Uppsala municipality and Uppsala County. The Mobile Emergency Team serves the elderly only in Uppsala municipality, not the entire county.

Uppsala County is located to the northwest of Stockholm County and to the east of Västmanland County

Skärmavbild 2015-01-07 kl. 10.20.06

Uppsala Municipality borders the Municipalities of Östhammar, Tierp, Heby, Enköping, Håbo, and Knivsta in Uppsala County, north of Stockholm County.

Since the establishment of the Mobile Team in September 2011, fewer older patients visit the emergency room at Uppsala University Hospital. The Mobile Team started as a pilot project, which became a permanent unit in Uppsala, in January 2014.

Uppsala University Hospital is the only hospital with an emergency room in Uppsala County. Uppsala University Hospital is a public hospital financed by county taxes. Fewer visits to the emergency room thus save costs for the county. One visit to the emergency room is assumed to cost the county hospital 2,500 Swedish kronor (350 US dollars)[1]. In a conversation with the Mobile Team, one of the team’s two physicians, Magnus Gyllenspetz, explained to me that Uppsala County saves costs if the team makes three home visits per day. The savings come from reductions in the number of ambulance trips and the number of treatments provided in the hospital.

The total yearly cost of the Mobile Team is 3.5 million Swedish kronor (five hundred thousand US dollars). Uppsala County saves 2.5 million Swedish kronor (350,000 US dollars) on reduced outpatient treatments of the elderly alone. The largest savings are in the area of reduced hospitalizations for this group. Estimates for 2012 indicate that the Mobile Team saves Uppsala County over nine million Swedish kronor (1.2 million US dollars) annually on inpatient treatments for the elderly, excluding the costs of the Mobile Team.

Without the Mobile Team, an estimated 460 patients would have traveled to Uppsala University Hospital for treatment during the pilot phase, from September 2011 to January 2014. These 460 patients are “avoidable inpatients,” patients who can avoid a stay in hospital with treatment or social care assistance at home.

Apart from the economic benefits, patients like the Mobile Team. Fewer patients need to travel to the hospital. Fewer patients need to wait in emergency rooms. Fewer relatives worry about the health of their elderly loved ones. Fewer relatives must take time from work to help their relatives get to the emergency room. The Mobile Team cares for the ill residents in nursing homes. Because ill nursing home patients are the responsibility of the Mobile Team, the nurses in the nursing home are able to continue to care for all of their patients. If the nurse from the nursing home had to travel with the resident to the emergency room, then that nurse could not care for other patients.

Considering all the benefits, why is there only one Mobile Team with this setup in Sweden? Why do some older patients who need urgent care still travel to the emergency room? Is the Mobile Team too good to be true? How can we explain the fact that there is only one Mobile Team financed by a municipality and a county in Sweden?

There are many answers to these questions. Some older patients feel safer in emergency rooms. Most patients want the freedom to choose where to obtain treatment, at home or in emergency rooms, and some older patients feel safer in emergency rooms. People do not like to be told what kind of healthcare is best for them. Some simply do not know about the Mobile Team. Healthcare personnel follow routines. Some employees of the county do not work with the Mobile Team simply because it is not part of their routine. In my conversation with the five members of the Mobile Team, they expressed a desire to develop a new promotional strategy that would help the team reach out to more patients and partner organizations in the county.

The Mobile Team in Uppsala became a permanent unit one year ago, on January 1, 2014. I hope that other municipalities will establish Mobile Teams in the future, as more people become aware of the many benefits a Mobile Team can bring.

This is a happy thought for the New Year.

Happy New Year to all readers!

[1] “Final Report on the Mobile Emergency Team for the Elderly, 2013”. Author of the report: Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (Slutrapport för projekt kring de mest sjuka äldre Mobila hembesöksteamet i Uppsala, SKL)

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About Sofia Widén

Program Manager integrated eldercare at ACCESS Health International in Sweden and in the United States www.accessh.org

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