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Personal Connections with Pharmacists Drive Medication Adherence Outcomes

With nearly half of all patients in the US not taking their medications as prescribed, medication non-adherence remains a dangerous and expensive problem that costs the health care system $329 billion annually (Express Scripts Drug Trend Report), meaning more hospitalizations and visits to the emergency room (ER).

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

So what’s the good news? Effective, comprehensive solutions are emerging to reverse this trend by involving the pharmacist to improve medication adherence rates through a personal connection with patients.

Recent stories underscore how pharmacists are uniquely positioned to engage patients in conversations that help them understand why treatments are prescribed and why meds should be taken as directed.

A report released on June 25 by the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), for example, illustrates how interpersonal relationships between pharmacists and patients boost adherence. Authors of the report found that a patient’s sense of connectedness with one’s pharmacist or pharmacy staff was the survey’s “single strongest individual predictor of medication adherence.”

“Pharmacists can help patients and caregivers overcome barriers to effectively and consistently follow medication regimens,” NCPA CEO B. Douglas Hoey, RPh, MBA, said in a statement. “Indeed, independent community pharmacists in particular may be well-suited to boost patient adherence given their close connection with patients and their caregivers.”

According to the American Pharmacists Association (APhA), one effective method pharmacists can use to improve adherence is medication therapy management (MTM) services for patients taking more than one drug for multiple chronic medical conditions. In addition to therapy reviews, pharmacotherapy consults, anticoagulation management, immunizations, health and wellness programs and other clinical services, MTM involves the following elements:

  • Comprehensive medication review, including a personal medication report that lists all the medications the patient is taking.
  • Medication action plan.
  • Education and counseling or other resources to enhance understanding about using the medication and to improve adherence.
  • Coordination of care, including documenting MTM services, providing the documentation to other providers, and referring patients to other providers as needed.

Pharmacists can also leverage a variety of practical tips to help patients improve adherence that include:

  • Discussing the appropriateness of each medication and its impact on their multiple medical conditions.
  • Evaluating the effectiveness and safety of each medication.
  • Assessing whether some medications may be unnecessary and should be discontinued.
  • Discussing the need to change medications or doses if problems arise.

The implications of improved adherence will help lower the cost of treating chronic conditions, decrease hospitalizations, reduce ER visits and by extension lower the risk of treatment failures, serious adverse reactions and deaths too.

“Studies have repeatedly recorded the cost-saving effect of MTM,” said Kevin Schweers, Senior Vice President, Public Affairs, NCPA. “One Minnesota study found a 12:1 return-on-investment for MTM.  In North Carolina, Kerr Drug reports that MTM programs for seniors produced a 13:1 return. Improved adherence would likely help reduce hospitalizations as well. So many prescription drugs are intended to treat chronic conditions, such as heart disease, that can result in hospitalization. In addition, hospital re-admissions can result from the failure to stick to a prescribed medication regimen.”

Joel Zive, adjunct clinical faculty, University of Florida College of Pharmacy, underscored the need for patients to cultivate relationships with their pharmacists.

“While MTM services are quite important in helping adherence, getting to know your pharmacist’s name is helpful in establishing a relationship with your pharmacist,” he said. “Pharmacists are trained to pick up clinical clues from patients.  This is why if you are having unusual reactions medications, speaking to your pharmacist is an option.”

Although MTM services are an effective way to increase adherence, greater participation among patients and pharmacists is needed according to the APhA and the National Council on Patient Information and Education (NCPIE).

In addition to leveraging tips and strategies to boost adherence, pharmacists can also draw on a number of resources for patients, referring them to the NCPIE wallet card and to a brochure made available by NCPIE and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), “Your Medicine: Be Smart. Be Safe.”

What else can pharmacists do to engage patients? How can stakeholders in health care, government, academia and the private sector collaborate to improve dialogue among pharmacists and patients around strategies that increase adherence?

Cleveland Clinic’s Value-Based Care Team Improves Patient Wait Times, Saves Costs

Cleveland Clinic CEO and President Toby Cosgrove, MD, believes that the medical center is ready to “lead the charge” in delivering better patient outcomes and faster care, all at a lower cost.

Dr. Toby Cosgrove

Toby Cosgrove, MD

To that end, the Cleveland Clinic has established a Value-Based Care Team, made up of physicians, nurses and other experts who will work together to translate “better, lower cost and faster” into everyday practice. Services are rationalized across the network, with multi-specialty teams using system-wide resources to deliver the right care at the right place for every patient, at the right time with the right cost.

“Value is the centerpiece of Cleveland Clinic’s strategy,” said Associate Chief of Staff for Clinical Integration Development, Dr. David Longworth, who heads the Clinic’s Value-Based Care Steering Committee. “We are focused on two areas. One is to eliminate unnecessary practice variation by developing evidence-based care paths across diseases. The other is comprehensive care coordination to allow patients to move seamlessly through the system so that we reduce unnecessary hospitalizations and ER visits.”

According to Dr. Longworth, the TeamCare model helps to:

  • Increase throughput.
  • Reduce the cost-per-unit of service.
  • Improve patient and provider satisfaction.

“In the past, each physician had one medical assistant who simply roomed the patient and took vitals,” he explained. “All the chart work was done by the physician, often at home in the evenings, adding several hours of work to their day and extra time to the entire process. Now, physicians go home at the end of the day with all their charts closed.”

The TeamCare model helps the Cleveland Clinic improve its Patient Experience ratings in a number of measured metrics, including:

  • 22.8 percent improvement in wait time at clinic.
  • 10.7 percent improvement in wait time in exam room to see provider.
  • 8.9 percent improvement in the time the provider spent with the patient.

While the Value-Based Care Team may be a concept borne of the new world of health care, the Cleveland Clinic has a rich history of improving patient outcomes. In 2000, the Clinic became the first hospital in the U.S. to publish its outcome measures and now publishes outcome books for every department, comparing itself to the best available benchmarks.

The Cleveland Clinic further changed the way it delivers care by developing Institutes to house medical and surgical specialties, working under one Institute leader and one budget. In some Institutes, inpatient and outpatient care are co-located, and Institute leadership is charged with defining what diseases and conditions each Institute cares for, developing a set of shared outcome measures for which the team is jointly accountable. Leaders also identify the skills that need to be brought together to care for patients with the sets of conditions the team treats.

Institutes are given autonomy to pursue different implementation approaches and are expected to share insights with others. For example, the Neurological Institute created a website so that others at the Clinic could learn how it was developing performance measures and decide whether to use a similar approach.

In the case of a primary care pilot program, Value-Based Care relies on a team approach that leads to a higher-efficiency practice style. Responsibilities are shared among two medical assistants and the physician, with each individual functioning to the highest level of their scope.

For each patient visit, a medical assistant brings the patient to a treatment room and obtains vitals and additional medical history information, which they immediately enter into the patient’s electronic medical record. The medical assistant remains in the room during the examination, acting as a real-time transcriber for the doctor’s notes and orders, which are also sent immediately to the physician’s inbox for verification and signature so the assistant can schedule any follow-up tests or procedures before the appointment is complete. At the same time, the physician’s second medical assistant is getting the doctor’s next patient set up in another treatment room.

Value-Based Care also helps the Clinic reduce costs. In fact, in just under a year, the direct cost per patient encounter dropped by 7.5 percent while the number of patient encounters per day increased by 16.4 percent.

The hospital lowers costs in other ways as well, such as avoiding 12,082 lab tests in 2011 and 2012 for a savings of $1.2 million and lowering the cost of lung transplant surgery by 11 percent. Cleveland Clinic also is getting patients into treatment faster, with the total number of same-day visits increasing by 14 percent and the average emergency room door-to-doctor time reduced to 17 minutes.

These strides are helping Cleveland Clinic reach the Top 20 of the University HealthSystem Consortium’s (UHC) quality index, earning UHC’s Rising Star award by improving inpatient centeredness, mortality, equity, efficiency, effectiveness and safety.

The Cleveland Clinic model is a good example of how health systems can develop evidence-based models to generate higher quality care at a lower cost. What are other hospitals and health systems doing to redesign care delivery paths? Let us know what’s working.

Categories: Cost-Savings

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

Hospitals, Physicians Embrace Strategies To Reduce Cost of “Frequent Flyer” ER Visits

Pardee Memorial Hospital in Hendersonville, N.C., shaved nearly $405,000 from its Emergency Room (ER) expenses over a one-year period thanks to an integrated program that its founder calls a “patient-centered medical home on steroids.”

The program, Bridges to Health, helped its uninsured participants reduce their ER visits from an average of seven per year (at a typical cost of $14,004 per person) to three per year (at an average cost of $2,760 per person). Another indicator of success: 10 participants secured employment and six previously homeless members found places to live by the end of the first year.

It’s estimated that non-urgent Emergency Department (ED) visits cost the U.S. about $4.4 billion annually. At Pardee Memorial Hospital alone, 255 frequent users (“frequent flyers”) of the ED racked up more than $3 million in unpaid medical bills. Frequent flyers account for up to 40 percent of total ER visits nationwide.

Bridges to Health decreases ER expenses by providing this patient population with primary care, behavioral health services and a nurse case manager through bi-weekly health clinic visits.

“Many of these people just went to the ER because they were in pain or scared,” said Dr. Steve Crane, a family physician who started the program. “You see them going back so many times because their real issues are not supposed to be treated in the ER and are not taken care of.”

The Pardee Bridges to Health free clinic integrates medical checkups and group therapy, with doctors providing treatment and patients offering one another tips ranging from how to obtain legal assistance to saving money on food and shelter. In this way the program addresses the two main problems seen in these patients: lack of social support and access to regular primary care.

Although the results of the program are promising, Dr. Crane cautions that the patient group is small and that it only works for participants who attend the clinic meetings.

Another example of how hospitals can lower frequent flyer ER visits is in the story of Providence St. Peter Hospital (Olympia, Washington). The first step was to join a special community program called the Emergency Department Consistent Care Program and CHOICE, a unified program involving five area hospitals and a non-profit regional coalition of health care providers.

This collaborative effort resulted in ER visits among frequent flyers shrinking by about 50 percent, for a cost savings of nearly $10,000 per patient. That translated to a $2.2 million reduction in ED and inpatient expenses over two years at Providence St. Peter’s alone.

This program flags patients who visit the ED at least twice in one month or four times in six months then examines their cases for narcotic dependency, mental health issues and other factors. The program team uses that data to identify patients, then develops individual care plans and offers the assistance of primary care physicians, clinicians and specialists skilled in the patients’ particular needs.

What’s key to the success of the program? It effectively coordinates efforts with other hospitals in the area, according to its administrative coordinator, ensuring that frequent flyers get a consistent message wherever they go.

What approaches should be pursued to provide more efficient care systems while decreasing readmissions for frequent flyers? Encourage more doctors to keep their offices open longer? Leverage mental health coalitions that focus on continuity of care instead of short-term fixes?

Tell us what you think.

Categories: Cost-Savings