Real World Health Care Blog

Tag Archives: Diabetes

It Takes a Community for Effective Disease Prevention and Management

To help stem the tide and high cost of persisting disparities in U.S. health care, providers are leveraging Community Health Workers (CHWs) as critical players in improving health outcomes by successfully linking “vulnerable” patient populations to better care. Living in the communities where they work, CHWs understand what is meaningful to those communities, communicate in the language of those they serve, and incorporate cultural buffers to help patients cope with stress and promote health outcomes.

As the CDC reports, growing evidence supports the involvement of CHWs as a critical link between providers and patients in the prevention and control of chronic disease:

  • They help high-risk populations, especially African-American men in urban areas, to control their hypertension.
  • They enable diabetic patients to reduce their A1C values, cholesterol triglycerides and diastolic blood pressure.
  • Their interventions improve knowledge about cancer screenings as well as screening outcomes.
  • Their interventions help patients reduce the severity of asthma.

Many Americans – especially those with low incomes, have no insurance or face other socio-economic barriers to primary care – often distrust the health care system, or lack the resources and awareness needed to take charge of their health. As a result, they wait until health issues and chronic disease escalate enough to drive them into the emergency department, where they receive short-term solutions that drive up the total cost of health care.

CHWs are changing that, community by community. Examples of CHW programs – both at home and abroad – abound. One is Penn Medicine’s IMPaCT Program.

IMPaCT (Individualized Management for Patient-Centered Targets) pairs patients in need of extra support with relatable neighbors and peers (people who have shared language, ethnic and geographic backgrounds) to assist them in navigating the medical system and identify the underlying causes of illness.

“Lower income patients tend to poorly manage chronic disease and have worse health outcomes than other patient populations,” explains Dr. Shreya Kangovi, Director of the Penn Center for Community Health Workers, which houses the IMPaCT program. “They are less likely to get preventive care and more likely to end up in the hospital. This scenario leaves health care practitioners frustrated, because they can’t move the needle on health outcomes. And it makes it difficult for the health system to meet its quality targets.”

Dr. Kangovi notes that many patients served by IMPaCT didn’t have a relationship with a primary care physician prior to joining the program.

“There is a lot of focus today on reducing hospital re-admissions,” she says. “But before we can reduce re-admissions, we need to make sure patients have a substitute for the emergency department.”

She shared the story of “Ben,” a young man with a bad case of lupus and no insurance. Ben had been visiting Penn’s Emergency Department regularly for lupus flare-ups. There, he received steroids and pain medications before being sent along his way. Thanks to IMPaCT, Ben was set up with a primary care doctor who understands his health problems, and placed Ben on a better medication regimen. Not only does Ben now feel better, he has more trust in the health care system that he sees as an ally, she says.

IMPaCT currently serves about 500 patients via two programs – one for hospitalized inpatients and one for primary care outpatients. The program’s CHWs meet with patients upon admission to the hospital to set short-term goals and identify pathways to solving their clinical and socioeconomic hurdles. They advocate for patients during their hospitalization, then work with them during discharge and beyond to get them connected to resources in their community. On the primary care side, patients work with their IMPaCT partner over six months to break long-term health goals down into smaller, achievable steps.

“Once patients leave the hospital, real-life issues intervene,” Dr. Kangovi says. “IMPaCT’s community health workers address these health and life issues on the ground, and do so much better and at a much lower cost than clinically trained personnel.”

Are CHWs making a difference where you live? How are they helping to reduce costs and improve access to health care?

Categories: Access to Care

Telehealth Opens Doors to Enhance Health Outcomes and Reduce Costs

Telehealth solutions are making significant inroads to reverse high health care expenditures and reduce noncompliance with prescription therapies – issues that especially impact those living with chronic disease.

By engaging patients in health education through classes, patient portals, real-time patient-provider consultations, online discussion forums and more, telehealth strategies empower providers to monitor disease progression and intervene with patients at an earlier stage, when conditions may be more easily treated.

A digital conduit that delivers medical care, health education, and public health services, telehealth connects multiple users in separate locations. Telehealth services consist of diagnosis, treatment, assessment, monitoring, communications and education. It includes a broad range of telecommunications, health information, videoconferencing, and digital image technologies.

And what’s best of all? Telehealth is working in many situations. Here are a few examples:

Case Study #1: Telehealth plays an instrumental role in supporting the care of veteran patients with chronic conditions. They are part of a national program from the US Veterans Health Administration to coordinate the care of veterans with chronic conditions at home and avoid unnecessary admission to long-term institutional care. The program included the systematic implementation of health informatics, home telehealth, and disease management technologies for six conditions including diabetes mellitus, congestive heart failure, hypertension, posttraumatic stress disorder, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and depression.

Patients involved in the program benefitted from a 25 percent reduction in the number of bed days of care and a 20 percent reduction in hospital readmissions. According to a study of the program, the basis for reduced utilization of health care resources for the patients involved was due to the program’s foundation in patient self-management, disease management and the use of virtual visits.

Case Study #2: At Partners HealthCare in Boston, a home telehealth program focusing on cardiac care resulted in a 50 percent reduction in heart failure hospital readmissions, for a total cost savings of more than $10 million since 2006. The Connected Cardiac Care Program is a centralized telemonitoring and self-management and preventive care program for heart failure patients that combines telemonitoring with nurse intervention and care coordination, coaching and education. The daily transmission of weight, heart rate, pulse and blood pressure data by patients enables providers to more effectively assess patient status and provide just-in-time care and patient education.

Patients in the program use equipment – a home monitoring device with peripherals to collect weight, blood pressure, and heat rate measurements, and a touch-screen computer to answer questions about symptoms – on a daily basis for four months. Telemonitoring nurses monitor these vitals, respond to out-of-parameter alerts, and guide patients through structured biweekly heart failure education.

Cost to the patients? Zero.

Case Study #3: A telehealth strategy using webinars had a small but “positive impact on hypertensive patients” in Brazil, in terms of their adherence to antihypertensive drugs, low salt diet and physical activity. The program was managed by Family Health Teams (FHTs) consisting of doctors, nurses, nurse technicians and community health agents. According to researchers studying the program, the vast majority of practitioners do not specialize in primary care, and only recently have specialized courses emerged to provide that training.

“Given the country’s continental dimensions, high demand, and inadequate amount of training and continuing education centers for primary care professionals, telehealth presents itself as a promising strategy to improve access to training, leading to the improvement of hypertension,” they noted.

Despite growing evidence that telehealth is working for more and more patients, concerns remain about security, privacy and medical liability, with critics also arguing that telehealth lacks common standards. Government agencies, they say, have often been slow to reimburse patients for many telehealth services. Further, some health professionals argue that telehealth threatens to compromise the doctor-patient relationship.

Tell us what you think. Do the advantages of telehealth outweigh possible drawbacks? Have you leveraged telehealth services, either as a patient or provider?

For more information on how telehealth is changing the concept of health care delivery, dowload the White Paper from Tunstall Americas: “Telehealth Solutions Enhance Health Outcomes and Reduce Healthcare Costs.”

Categories: Cost-Savings

Walgreens Unveils Solutions to Boost Medication Adherence

How can health professionals enable their patients to take medications more consistently as prescribed?

Personalized counseling from pharmacists and prescription refill reminders are two effective ways now shown to fuel better drug adherence, according to research from Walgreens presented March 15 at the World Congress Summit in Philadelphia.

Walgreens’ community pharmacy programs – in addition to successful intervention models – are equipping patients with powerful tools to self-manage their health.

One finding, for example, revealed that individuals receiving in-person counseling from their pharmacist saw 7.2 percent higher adherence than those with more conventional pharmacy care. Meanwhile, one of Walgreens’ pilot programs demonstrated that patients who receive prescription refill reminders (also called automated refill reminders or ARR) are more likely to consistently take medications for chronic conditions.

“In order to improve medication adherence among patients, providers need to understand the key challenges and contributors to non-adherence, and how to address them,” said Jim Cohn, Walgreen Co. spokesperson. “The research findings demonstrate how programs at the community pharmacy level designed to target common barriers to adherence, such as the challenge of learning a new medication therapy or simple forgetfulness, can significantly improve patient health and outcomes.  Ultimately, these types of pharmacy initiatives can help providers do their part to ensure more people get, stay and live well.”

Walgreens isn’t alone in recommending evidence-based approaches to enhance adherence outcomes. The Medication Adherence Project’s (MAP) 2010 Training Package also offers strategies for both providers and pharmacists that stress individualized patient engagement, with solutions that include writing 90-day instead of 30-day prescriptions, prescribing generics, communicating directly with providers, and more.

Securing increased medication adherence will not only go far in helping patients live longer and healthier, but will deliver considerable savings for the health care system too.

How do we know? Underscoring the benefits of adherence, MAP cites “lower disease-related medical costs” for diabetes and hypercholesterolemia in addition to related “reductions in health care costs.”

The New England Health Institute (NEHI) also provides compelling evidence in its October 2012 Issue Brief that reducing medication non-adherence, which contributes to hospital readmissions, helps lower hospitalizations and saves on associated expenses, noting: “One study found that one-third of adverse drug events resulting in a hospital admission were related to non-adherence. The aggregate cost of hospital admissions related to medication adherence has been estimated to be roughly $100 billion per year and estimates of the share of hospital admissions related to non-adherence are as high as 10 percent.”

Successful strategies generating increased medication adherence are clearly worth pursuing and replicating, both to strengthen the quality of health services and to lower the cost of care.

Now we want to hear from you. As a medical professional, what approaches do you incorporate to encourage patients to properly take their meds? If you’re a patient, what has worked for you?

Taking the Digital Leap Saves Community $20+ Million in Preventable Health Care Costs

Hospitalizations dropped by almost 3,000 people over a two-year period in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, thanks to a variety of quality changes and investments in electronic health records (EHR). This tool collects and shares critical health information about individual patients and populations across health care settings.

The nearly 11 percent drop in hospitalizations for common cardiovascular conditions (diabetes, high blood pressure, heart failure and angina) was reported in the 10th Community Health Checkup by Better Health Greater Cleveland, a regional health improvement collaborative that works with health care systems, health plans and employers to foster quality health care that’s more affordable.

Why does this decline matter? Because it shows that through efficient use of EHR, primary care is getting better in this community and has implications for advancing the quality of patient-centered care across health systems.

The report demonstrates that practices leveraging EHR are finding that they can more effectively measure care and identify opportunities to enhance service as a result: “The changes are helping people change the course of their health, and they’re adding up to measurable impact on the community – in health, care and cost.”

Better Health also notes that EHR makes a huge impact for the better when it comes to health outcomes for patients: “We have documented large differences between our EHR- and paper-based systems in terms of achievement and improvement of our standards in diabetes and high blood pressure.”

Indeed, a 2011 paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine confirms this trend, finding a 35 percent higher achievement for composite care standards for diabetes patients treated by practices using EHR compared with practices using paper-based systems. EHR sites were also associated with a 10 percent greater improvement of care and a 4 percent improvement among outcomes.

“EHRs have been well shown to improve patient safety, especially through e-prescriptions and clinical decision support,” says Dr. Tim Kowalski, President, Health Action Council Quality Forum. “They also help to improve care coordination via medication reconciliation, enhancing the exchange of health information and through the use of patient registries. And, they help to reduce redundancy via awareness of previous evaluations and various test results.”

Dr. Kowalski adds: “As health care purchasers we are demanding that health care providers demonstrate quality improvement, customer experience improvement and cost-effective care when we consider which provider groups to feature to our employees and their dependents. As we move from a world of fee for service payment to population health outcome-based compensation, this will become increasingly important.”

Have you seen examples – beyond those demonstrated by Better Health – where care is improved and costs are reduced when EHR are incorporated in the system? Tell us more.

Categories: Cost-Savings