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(Medical) Home is Where the Care and Cost-Savings Are

The word “home” has many connotations: the building in which you live, the place you come from, and even the end point of a game. Now, there is a new type of home: The Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH).

Linda Barlow

Linda Barlow

PCMH is a model of primary care that is patient-centered, comprehensive, team-based, coordinated, accessible and focused on quality and safety. It has become a widely accepted – and cost-effective – model for how primary care should be organized and delivered, encouraging providers to give patients the right care in the right place, at the right time and in the manner that best suits their needs.

“The magnitude of savings depends on a range of factors, including program design, enrollment, payer, target population, and implementation phase,” explains Michelle Shaljian, MPA, Chief Strategy Officer of the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative (PCPCC). “Most often, the medical home’s effect on lowering costs is attributed to reducing expensive, unnecessary hospital and emergency department utilization.”

When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law in 2010, medical homes got a boost because of numerous provisions that increased primary care payments, expanded insurance coverage and invested in medical home pilots, among other programs.

The model has been adopted by more than 90 health plans, dozens of employers, 43 state Medicaid programs, numerous federal agencies, hundreds of safety net clinics and thousands of small and large clinical practices nationwide since then. Among the results:

  • In Michigan, Blue Cross Blue Shield – the nation’s largest PCMH designation program — saved an estimated $155 million in preventative claim costs over the first three years of implementation.
  • CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield in Maryland reported nearly $40 million savings in 2011 and a 4.2 percent average reduction in expected patient’s overall health care costs among 60 percent of practices participating for six or more months.
  • In New York, the Priority Community Healthcare Center Medicaid Program in Chemung County saved about $150,000 or 11 percent in the first nine months of implementation, reduced hospital spending by 27 percent and reduced ER spending by 35 percent.
  • In Pennsylvania, Pinnacle Health achieved a zero percent hospital readmission rate for PCMH patients versus a 10-20 percent readmission rate for non-PCMH patients.

The PCPCC is the leading national coalition dedicated to advancing PCMH. According to PCPCC, the medical home is an approach to the delivery of primary care that is:

  • Patient-centered: A partnership among practitioners, patients and their families ensures that decisions respect patients’ wants, needs and preference, and that patients have the education and support they need to make decisions and participate in their own care.
  • Comprehensive: A team of care providers is accountable for a patient’s physical and mental health needs, including prevention and wellness, acute care, and chronic care.
  • Coordinated: Care is organized across all elements of the broader health care system, including specialty care, hospitals, home health care, community services and supports.
  • Accessible: Patients access services with shorter wait times, “after hours” care, 24/7 electronic or telephone access, and strong communication through health IT innovations.
  • Committed to quality and safety: Clinicians and staff enhance quality improvement through the use of health IT and other tools to ensure that patients and families make informed decisions about their health.

According to Melinda Abrams, Vice President of Patient-Centered Primary Care Program at the Commonwealth Fund, to have the greatest impact, a medical home must be located at the center of a “medical neighborhood” inhabited by hospitals, specialty physicians, physical therapists, social workers, long-term care facilities, mental health professionals and other service providers. She notes that it is the role of the primary care provider to coordinate care and make sure that patients don’t slip through the cracks, or receive tests or procedures they’ve already had – a particular concern for patients who see multiple doctors.

The National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) – a non-profit, independent group dedicated to improving health care quality – accredits and certifies a wide range of health care organizations and is the leading national group that recognizes PCMH with the most widely adopted model. Currently, there are almost 5,000 NCQA Recognized PCMHs across the country.

Other organizations with PCMH recognition programs include Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care, Inc. (AAAHC), the Joint Commission, and URACVideos from the American Association of Family Physicians (AAFP) feature family physicians who discuss practice redesign aimed at lowering costs, maximizing staff expertise and improving patient care.

“Practices seeking to initiate a patient-centered medical home will find that an assessment process is very helpful to understand where they are,” said Shaljian. “Some practices have electronic health records, a very strong history of team-based care, and strong connections with specialists, hospitals, and other stakeholders in the community, while others do not. Some are deeply affected by an internal culture of quality improvement, which makes a huge difference in how successful some medical homes are.”

Want to learn more about PCMH? Visit the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality content-rich Resource Center.

How can health care continue to move the nation to PCMH? And how can the model tackle its number-one challenge: the current fee-for-service payment system?

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

Striking the Right Balance for Better Patient Outcomes

A recent article in Health Affairs reports that ChenMed – which serves low-to-moderate income elderly patients primarily through the Medicare Advantage program – is achieving better health outcomes for Medicare-eligible seniors, including those living with five or more major and chronic health conditions.  Dozens of Chen and JenCare Neighborhood Medical Centers are helping tens of thousands of seniors live better, longer: 

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Dr. Christopher Chen, ChenMed CEO

  • Total hospital days per 1,000 patients at ChenMed in 2011 were 1,058 for the Miami area in comparison with 1,712 total US hospital days per 1,000 patients in the same year (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Office of the Actuary).
  • Just one year prior, according to Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care, the Miami Hospital Referral Region was above the 90th percentile in inpatient hospital days.

Why is ChenMed so successful?

Dr. Christopher Chen, CEO of the organization, says its patient care model integrates cutting-edge medical expertise in a way that empowers physicians to ensure patients receive personalized attention and optimal care.

“People always ask, ‘What is your secret?’ There really is no secret,” he says. “It comes down to having the right incentives, the right physician and staff culture, and the right philosophy of care. My goal at the end of the day is to be cost-effective through improvement of outcomes by changing the philosophy of care. We care about results.”

The group practice’s popularity also attests to its effective one-stop-shop approach to patient-centered care through multi-specialty services. Smaller physician panel sizes of 350-450 patients spur intensive health coaching and preventive care, and prescriptions are given to patients during their visits at all Chenand JenCare Neighborhood Medical Centers.

This aspect of ChenMed’s model makes the biggest difference in boosting medication adherence, followed by strong one-on-one doctor-patient relationships that help to change habits for the better. Receiving meds within 3-5 minutes of ordering drugs not only means patients don’t have to wait for the treatment they need, but that they receive their medications while having face-to-face interactions with their primary care doctors.

“In our model we aren’t looking for high-income patients,” Dr. Chen says. “People ask, ‘Are you saying that patients like you because you give more attention to them and provide more access to doctors than those who pay for concierge service?’ I would say yes.”

ChenMed continuously employs top specialists from a variety of fields to conveniently provide fully integrated medical services to patients.  It effectively combines services like acupuncture into its portfolio of care, and improves outcomes and patient experience with customized end-to-end technologies enhancing its daily operations. For example, all the medical assistants and staff are equipped with iPads and can offer physician support tailored to each patient. This fuels collaboration, enabling doctors to work side by side with patients and providing a significant convenience to all parties as a result.

Primary care physicians at Chen and JenCare Neighborhood Medical Centers also meet three times a week, engaging in thoughtful ongoing discussions that generate numerous enhancements to care and delivery for better outcomes.

“We discuss whether a hospitalization could be improved through better outpatient care. We ask, ‘What can we do to improve patient outcomes while the patient is in the hospital?’ We innovate to improve outcomes and can achieve great things for patients because of our small panel sizes. These meetings have saved many lives and continue to do so,” explains Dr. Chen.

When interviewing prospective doctors to work at ChenMed, they are asked whether they like spending time with patients and whether they love the complexity of medicine. If they say no to either of those questions, then this group is probably not the best place for them, Dr. Chen says, underscoring that:

“We want you to practice medicine the way you thought you would when you graduated from medical school. It’s not about how many patients you see, how many procedures you do, or how much you bill. You should want to be a doctor to make people feel better.” 

ChenMed, through its Primary Management Resources subsidiary, also provides behind-the-scenes consulting services to enhance medical practice operations nationwide.  Physicians interested in end-to-end solutions that streamline operations while enhancing patient health outcomes and the patient experience should contact ChenMed at (305) 628-6117 or go to ChenMed.com.

Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month Underscores Efforts to Identify Causes and Develop Treatments

That’s right. Children get arthritis too. In fact, according to the Arthritis National Research Foundation (ANRF), nearly 300,000 children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis (JA) – one of the most common childhood diseases in the country.

Linda Barlow

Linda Barlow 

When Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA) first shows its symptoms in a child’s body, many parents write off swollen joints and fever as the flu, or think a sudden rash might have occurred from an allergic reaction. The symptoms might even recede slightly before showing up again, sometimes delaying diagnosis. 

Because a child’s immune system is not fully formed until about age 18, JRA can be especially virulent, compromising the body’s ability to fight normal diseases and leaving children open to complications that can adversely affect their eyes, bone growth and more.

Both the Arthritis Foundation and the ANRF are on the forefront of combatting this disease by supporting research into causes and treatments.

The ANRF’s Kelly Award is one example of how the organization dedicates part of its research effort toward treatment of JRA. The $75,000 grant is given annually to a researcher focused solely on JRA treatment and cures. For the past two years, the award went to Dr. Altan Ercan at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, whose work has the potential to provide novel targets for new therapies.

Another example is the Arthritis Foundation’s partnership with the Childhood Arthritis and Rheumatology Research Alliance (CARRA). Through the partnership, the Foundation is working to create a network of pediatric rheumatologists and a registry of children with the disease, allowing researchers to identify and analyze differences and similarities between patients and their responses to treatment. Ultimately, the registry will help researchers cultivate personalized medicine, the ultimate weapon in battling the disease. The CARRA Registry has been launched at 60 clinical research sites and has enrolled 8,000 patients.

The Arthritis Foundation has also committed to providing more than $1.1 million in funding this year to researchers investigating a wide range of topics, including: 

  • Exploring how environmental and genomic factors might play a role in triggering juvenile arthritis; 
  • Collecting data and evaluating the efficacy of standardized treatment plans; and 
  • Developing and testing a smart phone app to help children cope with pain.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, there is no single test to diagnose JA. A diagnosis is based on a complete medical history and careful medical examination. Evaluation by a specialist and laboratory studies, including blood and urine tests, are often required. Imaging studies including X-rays or MRIs may also be needed to check for signs of joint or organ involvement.

“When joint pain, swelling or stiffness occurs in one or more of your child’s joints for at least six weeks, it’s important not to assume these symptoms are temporary, and to get a proper diagnosis from a pediatric arthritis specialist,” says Arthritis Foundation Vice President of Public Health Policy and Advocacy, Dr. Patience White. “Early medical treatment of juvenile arthritis can prevent serious, permanent damage to your child’s joints and enable her to live an active, full childhood.”  

Management of JA depends on the specific form of the disease but can include:

  • Care by a pediatric rheumatologist.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to control pain and swelling.
  • Corticosteroids such as prednisone to relieve inflammation, taken either orally or injected into inflamed joints.
  • Biologic Response Modifiers (BRMs), such as anti-TNF drugs to inhibit proteins called cytokines, which promote an inflammatory response. These are injected under the skin or given as an infusion into the vein.
  • Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs such as methotrexate, often used in conjunction with NSAIDs to treat joint inflammation and reduce the risk of bone and cartilage damage.

One promising therapy in the fight against juvenile arthritis has been recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration – Actemra (tocilizumab) – from Roche. Used to treat polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis (PJIA), the medicine can be used in children ages 2 and older. It is also approved for the treatment of active systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis (SJIA).

How can organizations like the Arthritis Foundation and the ANRF increase awareness that arthritis happens to children, and build support to advance development of research and therapies?

Are Shorter Doctor’s Office Wait Times Just a Phone Call Away?

Nobody likes to wait, especially at the doctor’s office. No one knows for sure what will happen to wait times, which average from about 16 minutes to just over 24 minutes nationwide according to Vitals – as 30 million more Americans obtain health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act. But it stands to reason that wait times could increase. Couple that with the looming shortage of primary care physicians, and time spent in doctors’ waiting rooms may become an even more precious commodity.

Linda Barlow

Linda Barlow

Patients who lack, well, the patience to wait may have a solution – one that is showing great promise to eliminate doctor visit copays and is available even to those without medical insurance. The free Urgent Care app from GreatCall Inc. is designed to give people 24/7 access to health care information anytime, anywhere. Launched in January, the GreatCall app rose to the top of the Google Play and App Store medical categories by mid-May.

Urgent Care is the only app that provides users with round-the-clock access – for a price of $3.99 per call – to a live, registered nurse with LiveCare Clinic who can escalate inquiries to a board-certified doctor for health-related advice, diagnosis and even prescriptions without an appointment. It also provides a medical dictionary and medical symptom checker tool.

Urgent Care empowers patients to make choices about how and where they receive medical consultation. For example, many access the app’s Interactive Symptom Checker feature to pinpoint various symptoms of common ailments they might initially find uncomfortable to discuss in person. The app also helps identify:

  • Possible causes of symptoms
  • When to self-treat
  • When to contact a medical professional

“With the costs of medical care rising, people are looking for other options to get access to quality health care,” said Aaron Amerling, Manager of Mobile Apps at GreatCall. “Urgent Care fills a very real need by giving anyone access to medical resources, as well as the ability to quickly connect to a nurse or doctor for less than the cost of a typical Starbucks beverage.”

Amerling notes that Urgent Care is being used by a wide range of people – from those seeking a Spanish-speaking nurse or doctor to those who have health insurance and are frustrated by sitting on-hold or waiting long periods for returned calls from their health care providers.

When asked whether apps like this undermine the authority of health care providers by placing too much control in the hands of patients, Amerling said, “When people have the ability to look up ailments online, they may find a myriad of potential causes and are unable to self-diagnose safely. That’s why we made the ability to access registered nurses and board-certified physicians for expert opinions an important component of Urgent Care.”

According to Amerling, the app has been so successful that the company is looking to add even more resources for patients, including:

  • Access to health news and videos
  • Drug information forums
  • Expanded medical libraries
  • A Spanish-language version of the app

Have you ever used Urgent Care or another app to obtain medical advice? If yes, how did you feel about the quality of care you received? If not, do you think you would ever use an app like this?

Categories: Access to Care

Implementation of Health Care Law Expanding Coverage to More Young Adults

LJB head shot 03

Linda Barlow

For the first time in nearly a decade, the number of 19-25 year-olds gaining access to health insurance is on the rise, according to the Commonwealth Fund 2012 Biennial Health Insurance Survey. Researchers point to a provision in the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or ACA), which allows young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26, as a likely cause of this groundbreaking trend.

“The early provisions of the Affordable Care Act are helping young adults gain coverage and improving the affordability of health care during difficult economic times for American families,” said Sara Collins, Ph.D., a Commonwealth Fund vice president and lead author of the Biennial Survey’s report, Insuring the Future: Current Trends in Health Coverage and the Effects of Implementing the Affordable Care Act.

The improvements in young adult health coverage are significant, according to the Biennial Survey:

  • Nearly eight in 10 (79 percent) of Americans ages 19-25 reported that they were insured at the time of the survey in 2012, up from 69 percent in 2010, or a gain in health insurance coverage for an estimated 3.4 million young adults.
  • The share of young adults in this same age group who were uninsured for any time during the year prior to the survey fell from 48 percent in 2010 to 41 percent in 2012 – an estimated decline of 1.9 million, from 13.6 million uninsured young adults in 2010 to 11.7 million in 2012.

Of the estimated 3.1 million young adults who are now covered through the ACA, 60 percent are leveraging it for mental health, substance abuse, or pregnancy treatment, according to a study from the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI). For one large, national employer profiled in the study, the newly-covered young adults used about $2 million in health care services in 2011 – about 0.2 percent of the employer’s total health spending.

Access is a major barrier to care for young adults, who were previously terminated from their parents’ plans when they turned 19. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), young adults typically face difficulties obtaining their own coverage because they work in entry-level, low-wage or temporary jobs that are less likely to provide health insurance. Lack of insurance makes it harder for young adults to receive adequate medical care –  a problem that plagued one in five young adults before the ACA began to take effect.

“Young adult women have additional health needs and are particularly vulnerable when they are uninsured, as they are at an age when they require reproductive health services,” noted Karyn Schwartz and Tanya Schwartz, authors of KFF’s Issue Paper, How Will Health Reform Impact Young Adults? “Having health insurance and consistent access to the medical system may increase the likelihood that they receive timely pre-natal care if they become pregnant.”

Meanwhile, some skeptics are expressing concerns about key aspects and implications of the Act, from objecting to young single males being required to purchase a plan including maternity benefits and well-baby coverage – to others saying that full implementation of the ACA in 2014 will mean much higher premiums for young adults. Many have challenged these assertions, however, noting that the ACA’s age-based pricing requirements are largely in line with premiums individuals are paying now.

Although the news for young adults is mostly good, the survey also found that 84 million people – nearly half of all working age U.S. adults – went without health insurance in 2012, or faced out-of-pocket costs that were so high relative to their income that they were considered “underinsured.”

The survey did indicate that 87 percent of the 55 million uninsured Americans in 2012 are eligible for subsidized health insurance through the insurance marketplaces or expanded Medicaid under the ACA. Up to 85 percent of the 30 million uninsured adults also might be eligible for either Medicaid or subsidized health insurance plans with reduced out-of-pocket costs.

Click here to learn more about pricing options for young adults seeking health insurance coverage.

Now it’s your turn. Does rollout of the ACA mean more accessible and affordable health insurance coverage, or will it drive up costs, particularly for younger Americans? Get the conversation started.

Categories: Access to Care

With a Little Help from My Friends, Family… And Apps

“Drugs don’t work in patients who don’t take them.” – C. Everett Koop, former Surgeon General

It was an idea born of near tragedy: an elderly, diabetic father who double-dosed on his insulin therapy and suffered a medical emergency. His two sons realized that if they were more involved in reviewing their father’s daily medication and insulin regimens, it could change his behavior for the better and help him get healthier.

MedicineCabinet (5)

Photos courtesy of NextGen Healthcare

So Omri and Rotem Shor co-founded the MediSafe Project, a free mobile app that makes it easier for families and friends to give the support needed to help their loved ones get healthier and integrate healthier behavior modification into their everyday lives. In the first four months after its launch, users reported medication adherence rates of 79 percent (82.25 percent for statins) – well above the 50 percent average medication adherence rate reported by the World Health Organization.

The MediSafe Project provides an easy-to-use interface – an interactive pillbox of sorts — over iOS and Android mobile phones. Users input information about their meds by typing their names or photographing their National Drug Code numbers. The system stores the correct pharmaceutical name, manufacturer and dosage, ensuring an error-free medication list in the event of a medical emergency. Users signify taking their meds by dragging pills from the virtual pillbox into a mouth icon, which “swallows” the pills.

Users receive alerts before medication courses are completed, allowing them to order refills in a timely manner. In addition to reminding users when it’s time to take their medication, the MediSafe Project sends alerts to selected family members, friends and caretakers when a loved one misses a dose. Users can also email a personalized list of adherence stats to their doctor, giving doctors better patient oversight between office visits. A prescription page feature lets doctors “prescribe” the MediSafe project to their patients to help better monitor medication adherence.

The impact of non-adherence on the outcomes of patients with cardiovascular diseases is one example that underscores why it is so critical to implement strategies and utilize technologies that improve medication adherence.

“Medication non-adherence is a problem that costs U.S. hospitals billions of dollars every year,” says Omri “Bob” Shor, CEO, MediSafe. “An American dies every nineteen minutes from skipping or taking medication incorrectly. Our goal is to help combat this problem and encourage healthy habits among users and their support systems with easy-to-use technology.”

The MediSafe Project isn’t the only app on the medication adherence scene. The free NextGen® MedicineCabinet app lets users create and update a list of medications, including dosing and schedule information, thus creating their own “personal” medication record.

Notifications are sent for each medication and users can confirm adherence. The app was designed, in part, to improve adherence and proper use of medication by enhancing patients’ understanding of how to correctly take their medication and to recognize adverse reactions. According to the company, it also equips health care professionals with all the relevant information they need, in a way they like to view it.

“Mobile patient engagement is at the forefront of today’s changing health care environment,” said Ike Ellison, executive vice president of business development for NextGen Healthcare, in a statement. “Providing consumer technology that encourages members to control and lead healthier lifestyles is a key factor in improving outcomes.”

Michael Paquin, vice president, business development for NextGen Healthcare, added “One of our users commented on the way that she was able to, for the first time, be able to share her medication lists easily with family, friends and all her physicians. It has saved this particular patient hours of time on a monthly basis.”

Technology-based solutions like the MediSafe Project and the NextGen Medicine Cabinet are among the latest patient-directed tools that improve medication adherence.

However, providers still play an important role in assisting patients in maintaining healthy behaviors like medication adherence. The American College of Preventive Medicine offers a SIMPLE approach on how providers can help their patients take their medications as prescribed.

Barriers to medication compliance abound, with memory issues, lack of support, and lack of education just being a few. What is behind these barriers? How can patient behaviors and motivations be changed?

MedicineCabinet2 (2)

Categories: Access to Care

Saving Green by Going Green

Daniel J. Vukelich, Esq., President, Association of Medical Device Reprocessors

Daniel Vukelich

In August 2012, Forbes ran an article by Richard Crespin entitled, “If Sustainability Costs You More, You’re Doing it Wrong.”  Never before has this been more true for health care providers than it is right now.  In fact, data shows that if hospitals put in place certain green initiatives, they would save a lot more green – to the tune of more than $15 billion over the next 10 years.  In this era of shrinking budgets, escalating health care costs, and the growing problem of medical waste, isn’t it about time that all hospitals explore these sustainable options?

Research from the Commonwealth Fund, with support provided by Health Care Without Harm and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, concluded in their report Can Sustainable Hospitals Help Bend the Health Care Cost Curve? that “the savings achievable through sustainable interventions could exceed $5.4 billion over five years and $15 billion over 10 years.”

One of the initiatives considered was the reprocessing of select “single-use” medical devices (SUDs).  In the study, hospitals contracted with an FDA-regulated medical device reprocessor, which are firms that specialize in collecting medical devices – decontaminating, cleaning, repairing, and remanufacturing the devices for resale back to hospitals.  Extrapolating on the data collected, the researchers estimate that “hospitals’ cost savings over five years was about $57 per procedure and if hospitals nationwide adopted SUD reprocessing, cost savings would be $540 million annually, or $2.7 billion over five years.”

That’s billion with a “b,” it does not require any up-front hospital capital investment to get started, and is proven to provide patients with the same standard of care.  With these reprocessing programs, hospitals are able to extend the life and value of the medical devices they already own, not only dramatically reducing the amount of medical waste hospitals generate, but saving money as well.

The savings associated with reprocessing have been recently bolstered by other sources.  According to Modern Healthcare, the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, comprised of about 700 hospitals and three non-profit organizations (Health Care Without Harm, Practice Greenhealth and the Center for Health Design), found that its members “saved a collective $32 million in 2012 by reprocessing single-use medical devices,” a practice that was highlighted by the Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI) in its first milestone report.

HealthLeaders found in the report that “recycling, regulated medical waste reduction, energy management, and single-use device reprocessing were the four HHI Challenge areas with highest participation levels and represented the areas with the fastest financial rewards.”

Just two weeks ago, in an article from Becker’s Hospital Review, Huron Consulting Group issued a briefing entitled, “Ten Overlooked Opportunities for Significant Performance Improvement and Cost Savings.”  The briefing lists reprocessing among the ways hospitals and health systems can save their organizations millions.  Jim Gallas, managing director and Performance Solutions leader at Huron Healthcare, said, “As market pressures on hospitals and health systems continue to grow, a comprehensive yet granular approach to reducing expenses in every possible area creates a tremendous opportunity to make healthcare delivery more efficient, as well as fund the changes that reform is bringing.”

Of the 10 areas for performance improvement at hospitals and health systems, Huron experts identified medical device reprocessing as reducing device costs between 15 and 40 percent for an average 350 bed hospital, which saved $175,000-$315,000 a year.

Last week, Sterilmed, an affiliate of Ethicon-Endo Surgery, Inc. (a Johnson & Johnson company) and Stryker Sustainability Solutions (a division of Stryker Corporation), the nation’s leading two medical device reprocessors, were awarded Practice GreenHealth’s 2013 “Champions for Change Award” for Environmental Excellence.  This commitment to environmental sustainability measures is an example other hospitals can follow to save costs and reduce expenses.

Today, it seems the demand for everyone in health care is to do more with less.  Device reprocessing doesn’t require hospitals to make tough sacrifices, but allows hospitals to use existing resources in a safe, FDA-regulated manner.

If the immediate cost-savings opportunities aren’t enough to persuade hospitals to reprocess, the long-term impacts should.  As the Commonwealth report found, “hospitals create 6,600 tons of waste per day and use large amounts of toxic chemicals. Reducing such pollution and greenhouse gas emissions would reduce the incidence of human disease, thereby saving money for the health care system and society as a whole.”

Going green saves green now, and helps decrease demands on the health care system later.

Categories: Cost-Savings

Keeping Boston Strong: How Disaster Training at Osteopathic Medical School Helped Save Lives

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The Bioterrorism and Disaster Response Program equips students at VCOM with critical skills through field exercises and more (photo courtesy of VCOM).

When Danielle Deines crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, she had no idea her unique medical training as Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine would make a real difference in the life-and-death events that would soon unfold.

A 2012 graduate of the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine – Virginia Campus (VCOM), Dr. Deines immediately sprang into action after the explosions violently rocked the most prestigious race in the country. Triaging people in the medical tent to ensure they received the care they needed, she helped make room for victims on a moment’s notice:

“They asked all of the runners to move to the back of the tent,” Dr. Deines said. “Once there as the volunteer physicians headed to the explosion sites, I made an effort to get to my feet and informed the nurse near me that I wanted to help. I was asked to discharge runners who were able and interested in leaving to help make room for the victims who were starting to be brought in from the street. I cleared those wishing to leave and signed off on their discharge paperwork, then helped to get them out of an entrance that had been made in the side of the tent.  We then moved the freed up cots to form triage areas. The back corner became the most severe triage area, nearest the entrance where the ambulances were arriving. I saw victims with traumatic amputations of the lower extremities, legs that had partially severed or had shrapnel embedded, and clothing and shoes literally blown off of victims’ bodies.”

Dr. Deines’ ability to help at the time of urgent need did not come coincidentally. Her education at VCOM equipped her — and all other graduates of the Blacksburg, Virginia school — with the critical life-saving skills that are needed when attacks or other emergencies strike.

The Bioterrorism and Disaster Response Program, a two-day, mandatory training curriculum for all second-year osteopathic students at VCOM, has immersed students in real-life disaster training, field exercises and specialized courses since its inception in 2003. This comprehensive approach gives participants expertise in areas including terrorist and major disaster response, hospital planning, behavioral risk factors, psychological response to trauma, and media relations.

Students who have completed the program now serve as lifelines, having the ability to respond to catastrophes locally, nationally and internationally – from Hurricane Katrina to the Virginia Tech shootings, tsunamis and tornado damage in Virginia.

Now more than ever, a working knowledge of disaster response issues is central to providing quality patient care.

“All medical students and practicing physicians need to be able to respond to natural and manmade disasters.  With changing global weather patterns such as global warming and changing political climates, disasters are now a part of the framework,” said Dr. James Palmieri, Associate Professor and Dept. Chair at VCOM. “I always teach the students that no matter what kind of disaster takes place, both natural and manmade, it will always begin in someone’s neighborhood and the local medical community will be part of the initial response.  In light of today’s instant communication, if and when you respond, the world will see you as the local expert.  You had better know how to respond properly for both your benefit and that of your patients.”

How can VCOM’s leadership role in disaster response training be replicated by other medical training programs?  In what ways can more medical schools develop and leverage their curricula to prepare students for disaster response?

Today, more than one in five medical students in the United States are training to be osteopathic physicians, who can pursue any specialty, prescribe drugs, perform surgeries and practice medicine anywhere in the U.S. Osteopathic physicians bring the additional benefits of osteopathic manipulative techniques to diagnose and treat patients, helping patients achieve a high level of wellness by focusing on health education, injury prevention, and disease prevention.

For students who are interested in going into osteopathic medicine, visit the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, www.AACOM.org; and VCOM at http://www.vcom.vt.edu/.

Heroes Needed: Apply Within

We’re taking a departure today from our coverage of what works in American health care to ask for your help.

Patients want us to re-open our Breast Cancer Fund at HealthWell, but we can’t successfully do that until we identify several key companies or organizations to partner with us in this effort.

When HealthWell’s Breast Cancer Fund was open, thousands of Americans battling breast cancer found new hope to live healthier lives. Nearly 17,000 insured breast cancer patients received the financial assistance they needed so that the surging cost of treatments was not a barrier to accessing critical care.

As HealthWell prepares to re-launch its massive Breast Cancer Fund, we are expanding our call to action. We are seeking partners to help us make a real, positive difference in the lives of insured patients who often struggle to afford critical treatment including medications.

By becoming a strategic partner with the HealthWell Foundation, your organization will help thousands of Americans who face medical bills they can’t afford.  Beyond the incredible satisfaction of knowing that you played a role in persuading your organization to help us re-open this fund, you’ll gain a cause marketing partner that will support your efforts to build and shape your brand to new audiences.

When you work with us to empower patients, you will leverage a unique opportunity to win exclusivity, naming rights and more.

With one in eight women in the U.S. expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime, the need for timely, life-sustaining care is outpacing our health system’s ability to assist patients. More and more Americans are in desperate need of immediate financial relief to afford deductibles, co-pays and premiums, yet many have few places, if any, to turn for assistance.

Women like Linda in Powell, Tenn., illustrate exactly why support for the Breast Cancer Fund at HealthWell is needed. When Linda realized just how expensive her breast cancer medication would be, she was scared. As a self-employed grandmother of two, she faced a $5,500 deductible for her insurance premium alone. Additional costs for mammograms, colonoscopy, endoscopy and lab work were all out-of-pocket and she wasn’t sure how she would make ends meet.

That is, until she discovered the Breast Cancer Fund at HealthWell, a lifeline that enabled her to afford the treatments she needed to remain cancer-free two years after her diagnosis.

“My patient advocate gave me a list of several foundations to contact which I did,” Linda said. “The first turned me down because they said we went $50 over our salary. The second turned me down because I had a deductible. Then I heard from HealthWell. We couldn’t believe we had found help. We just had to cry. I am so thankful. Every time I have my prescription filled it still amazes me. Not many good things have happened to us.”

The fund’s incredible track record of success in offering assistance to patients in need is exactly why we must reopen it now.

The HealthWell Foundation believes that no patient – adult or child – should go without health care because he or she cannot afford it. As demand for medical treatments increases while associated prices continue to spike, we want the Breast Cancer Fund at HealthWell to once again provide timely, critical copay and premium assistance and expanded services to breast cancer patients.

These services went far to ease the strain felt by patients covered under Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance and employer-sponsored plans with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level.

Strengthening the financial safety net for more patients begins with teamwork. Together we can be part of the solution, harnessing our resources to make access to quality medical treatment a reality for more Americans battling breast cancer. Please contact us if your company may be interested in partnering with us to re-open this vital fund.

The HealthWell Foundation sponsors this blog because we are innovators in finding solutions to overcome hurdles in the American health care system. The thousands of women at work right now trying to clear the hurdle of breast cancer deserve everything we have to give.  Join us.  We have so much yet to do.  And you could make a difference in so many lives.

Categories: Cost-Savings