Edward Kersh, MD, FACC, Medical Director for Telehealth at Sutter Care at Home, says the future of care delivery must be firmly rooted in the relationship between hospitals and the post-acute care setting. Sutter Care at Home, a nonprofit home health care and hospice agency that serves 160,000 patients in 28 northern California counties, is an affiliate of Sutter Health, one of northern California’s largest hospital and health care systems.
“Post-acute care will improve when more attention is paid to its role in patient outcomes,” he says, adding that for years, quality leaders have hyper-focused on the hospital as a place to lower readmissions when they should have concentrated more on the post-acute setting.
Kersh was among 30% of respondents to NEJM Catalyst’s recent Care Redesign Survey who say their organization’s patient experience between the inpatient setting, post-acute setting, and home environment is “mostly coordinated.” Sutter Care at Home is working toward the “fully coordinated” status that 7% of council members claim, he says.
At Hoag Memorial Presbyterian, a nonprofit hospital in Newport Beach, California, the goal is to be fully coordinated and to have a preferred post-acute care network of formal arrangements, says Nathan Gilmore, MD, MBA, Assistant in Quality Improvement and a specialist in critical care and emergency medicine.
“I would argue that fully coordinated care means there are seamless care management structures and interventions, including seamless sharing of real-time, easily accessible information,” Gilmore says.
Hoag has made strides toward this goal by having its preferred skilled nursing facility providers create reliable access to the same EMR, lab, and radiology systems. But Gilmore says the biggest move toward being fully coordinated has been sending doctors to round at the skilled nursing facilities. “If the patient is identified as part of the Hoag health care delivery network, then someone from the hospital or private practice will go see them in post-acute care,” he says.
“By deploying our own resources through contractual and informal relationships, we’ve seen decreased bounce-backs to the hospital as well as improvements in acuity measures,” Gilmore says.
Benefits and Difficulties of Preferred Networks
Using a preferred post-acute network enables the health system to require usage of the same EMR system across facilities, and to establish consensual contracts to ensure coverage of post-acute treatment by payers, according to Kersh. Preferred networks also promote monitoring and measurement of key metrics such as falls, ER visits, and readmissions — a benefit of preferred post-acute networks listed by 38% of respondents.
Hoag Memorial Presbyterian has a preferred relationship with a long-term acute care [LTAC] facility, but it is 20 miles away, making distance a barrier to owning the process door to door.
“And that facility is not one in our network, so I can’t look at the labs or the vital signs of a patient I sent there a week ago [because of separate EMR systems],” Gilmore says.
“If I try to contact a nurse at that LTAC, she can’t consult with me because I am not that patient’s provider for that facility, so I would have to go through the necessary HIPAA-compliant steps.”
Value-Based Care Could Help Integration
Patrick Burke, MD, MHCDS, pediatric hospitalist at Valley Children’s Healthcare, a nonprofit 358-bed children’s hospital in Madera, California, says his organization is “somewhat coordinated” but is moving toward “fully coordinated,” including building out contractual agreements and its own service offerings.
“We had few, if any, options for home health care partners, both due to metro Fresno’s relative isolation from larger metropolitan areas as well as our 45,000-square-mile catchment area in the rural Central Valley,” Burke says. Therefore, to improve patient experience, Valley Children’s started up its own home health care service, Valley Children’s Home Care.
Burke believes value-based care will drive a stronger bond between hospitals and post-acute settings, as bundled payments and other forms of value-based purchasing become more widespread. “These changes link individual providers and services into a single episode of care,” he says.
He offers treatment of cystic fibrosis as an example. When a patient is discharged home, the care received, including administration of intravenous medications and central line management, becomes part of the complete scope of care. Therefore, hospitals have to be invested in how that home health care is delivered. “There is wider recognition that we can’t control quality unless we have this relationship,” he says.
Bundled payment programs such as Medicare’s Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement Model will create strong incentives for improved quality, he says. “As outcomes measurements improve, future bundled payment programs may evolve to consider functional return to baseline or ambulation as quality metrics, creating more pressure to manage process and variation.”
Communication Is the Key to Preventing Readmissions
The top opportunity to improve transitions between settings, according to NEJM Catalyst survey respondents, is improved real-time communication between hospitals, post-acute facilities, and primary care/outpatient providers. To foster a closer relationship between the hospital and post-acute setting in his own health system, Sutter Care at Home’s Kersh meets with local hospital readmissions committees. He also speaks to cardiologists, hospitalists, discharge planners, primary care physicians, administrators, and other key players about what happens in home health care for heart failure patients.
Making sure that all parties understand each other’s roles is a way to achieve a decrease in readmissions, Kersh says. For example, if home health staff understand the role of hospice agencies, they can work with them to avoid inappropriate ED visits and rehospitalization for patients with terminal conditions.
He also trains the Sutter Care at Home’s nurses on how to interact with specialists and what issues to elevate to them. “You don’t call up the cardiologist and say, ‘Your patient has gained five pounds, what should we do?’ You say, ‘Your patient gained five pounds, should we double the Lasix dose?’”
Presenting a solution, he says, captures the cardiologist’s attention and makes the physician more invested in the link with post-acute care. “We’re shifting the focus so the home health nurse is now being considered a trusted partner,” he says.