Asthma afflicts one in 10 U.S. children and costs $3.2 billion annually to treat-often in the form of emergency visits and inpatient stays. One pediatrician at a children's hospital has taken to prescribing HEPA vacuum cleaners for her asthma patients, to keep their homes' air freer of the tiny particles that can trigger attacks. Though it's not "health care" in the medication/procedure/therapy sense, that prescription has cut the kids' ED visits by half and their inpatient stays by 60 percent.

"She doesn't get paid for writing that prescription and the hospital loses money, but it's an incredibly powerful intervention," says the physician's friend, A.G. Breitenstein, chief product officer, provider markets, for Optum, a leading vendor of population health tools and services.

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