Real World Health Care Blog

Tag Archives: providers

A Shot of Courage for Those Who Fear Needles

This is the first of a two-part series on what’s working to prevent and address needle fear.

Most people don’t enjoy shots.

But for those with needle phobia, the fear of shots can be so severe that they actively avoid medical procedures involving injections, and in extreme cases avoid medical care more generally.

Jamie Elizabeth Rosen

Jamie Elizabeth Rosen

Needle phobia can arise from genetic and environmental factors, including experiencing pain during encounters with needles or seeing others uncomfortable or distressed by needles. Studies show that approximately two out of three children and one in four adults are afraid of needles, and 10 percent of adults have an outright needle phobia, characterized by avoidance behavior and physiological responses, such as increased heart rate or fainting.

The miracle of modern medicine has enabled us to protect ourselves from a range of dangerous or life-threatening diseases. In one recent study, seven to eight percent of adults and children reported avoiding potentially life-saving immunizations as a result of needle fear. Given the growth of vaccine-preventable outbreaks throughout the world (check out this interactive map), this is not only a concern for individual health but also for public health.

Preventing and Addressing Needle Fear

Fortunately, a growing cadre of empathetic health professionals is taking the prevention of needle pain, which can trigger needle fear, to the next level.

“In order to combat pain, vascular access professionals across the country are looking at creative ways to address patient pain and patients’ perception of pain,” said nursing leader and vascular access expert Lorelle Wuerz, MSN, BS, BA, RN, VA-BC. “Offering the patient options before you do any procedure is important.”

Wuerz said that she uses a variety of interventions to combat needle fear and pain in patients, including:

  • Ensuring patients know what to expect;
  • Deep breathing;
  • Guided imagery;
  • Distraction techniques;
  • Topical agents;
  • Warm compresses;
  • Involvement of child life professionals;
  • Pain control devices, such as Buzzy®;
  • Aromatherapy (“Anecdotally, this is something patients find soothing and calming during an uneasy time,” Wuerz said.).

Needle pain prevention extends beyond traditional health care settings. For instance, after discovering that 23 percent of Americans who skipped flu vaccination did so to avoid needles, Target Pharmacy began offering micro-needle flu vaccines. The needles are 90% smaller than those that have traditionally been used and reportedly result in less muscle ache and pain immediately following injection.

“Treating needle pain reduces pain and distress and improves satisfaction with medical care,” wrote pain researcher Anna Taddio in a chapter on needle procedures in the Oxford Textbook of Paediatric Pain. “Other potential benefits include a reduction in the development of needle fear and subsequent health care avoidance behaviour.” 

The 4 Ps of Needle Pain Management

In the Oxford Textbook chapter, Taddio outlined the four domains of interventions that can reduce needle pain for patients, known as the 4 Ps: procedural, pharmacological, psychological, and physical.

Procedural interventions involve bypassing needles altogether through the use of needle-free immunization or non-invasive sampling devices. Pharmacological interventions include local anesthetics, which have been shown to be effective and safe for reducing pain from common needle procedures, and sweet solutions for infants up to 12 months, which have been shown to reduce needle pain behaviors. Psychological interventions include coaching people to cope and providing distractions. Physical interventions – such as upright body positioning, tactile stimulation, and use of cooling agents or ice – can also reduce the perception of needle pain.

Empowering Ourselves

Many people will celebrate the day when shots are replaced with futuristic technology, such as a robotic pill or one of many other innovations currently in development.

In the meantime, what can patients do to help themselves? “A patient should never not speak up,” Wuerz said. “It’s okay to have all of the information before you make a choice.”

Stay tuned for Part II of the series, in which Dr. Amy Baxter, MD – pain researcher, CEO of MMJ Labs, and inventor of Buzzy® Drug Free Pain Relief – will outline how you can protect yourself and your family from needle pain. Dr. Baxter will appear on ABC’s Shark Tank Friday, February 28 at 9:00 pm EST.

How do you respond to needles? What works for you? Have you had a good experience with a health care professional? Post your experiences to the comments section.

We Need a Little Certainty

When you’ve been diagnosed with cancer like me, you’re faced with an overwhelming amount of uncertainty. Did they catch it in time? Will the treatments work? And for many cancer patients, can I afford good treatment?

Linda Barlow

Linda Barlow

The Emergency Cancer Relief Fund (ECRF) could answer this question, but only if the HealthWell Foundation receives the donations it needs in order to open it.

It’s both sad and frustrating that here, in one of the most highly developed nations in the world, many cancer patients have to wonder if they can afford to save their own lives. Unfortunately, even having health insurance is not always enough of a safety net to avoid personal financial collapse while fighting the fight of your life.

As the bills start to roll in, so too does a new wave of uncertainty: Can you afford what you need to get better?

Providing assistance to people living with cancer has always been a priority for organizations like the HealthWell Foundation. Since 2004, HealthWell has been leading the way in bringing financial relief to more than 70,000 cancer patients with copay assistance through more than 20 oncology funds – yet so many more need help.

That is why I’m turning to you today. HealthWell has made the decision to create the ECRF. It is not yet open, but I want that to change. And for that to happen, HealthWell needs your help today.

Once launched, the ECRF will help people with expenses not covered under traditional current cancer copay funds, expanding services to even more cancer patients who have exhausted all other options and have no one to turn to.

For example, the ECRF can grant as little as $25 to help someone pay for anti-nausea medicine. Larger grants can also help patients overwhelmed by medical expenses accumulated during their treatment, such as medical equipment needs and diagnostic testing.

The ECRF will follow patients every step of the way through their treatment or recovery. It will almost be like having another caregiver watching out for your well-being. And for those of us who have lived through or are living with cancer, we know how important that caregiver network can be.

To that end, I would like to personally recognize and thank all of the health care providers at Abington Memorial Hospital and The Rosenfeld Cancer Center who took such good care of me during my recent treatments for breast cancer. From my initial diagnosis through my follow-up visits, every physician, nurse, therapist and technician I’ve encountered has treated me with both professionalism and the compassion and kindness a cancer patient needs to get through the day.

Compassion and kindness – they’re like life-giving oxygen to a cancer patient. But compassion and kindness aren’t just the hallmark of professional caregivers and loved ones. The ECRF will be proof of that, but HealthWell first has to raise enough money to open the fund so patients can benefit from it.

And that’s where your support comes in. If you want to show compassion and kindness to those with cancer, now is the time. Give to ECRF today so that HealthWell can launch the fund and help cancer patients avoid one more uncertainty in their lives.

Kaiser Permanente Gives Providers Evidence-Based Tools to Increase Adherence

At an industry conference years ago, I met an HIV-positive patient. We spoke about her treatment as well as her adherence program. “Who takes care of you?” I asked. “Kaiser Permanente,” she responded. Afterward, I did a little research and discovered this was one of the first HMOs created in the United States that takes care of millions of patients. Based in Oakland, California, their goal is “supporting preventative medicine and attempting to educate its members about maintaining their own health.”

Joel L. Zive

Joel L. Zive

Adherence remains a capstone in caring for patients after medications are dispensed and is an especially important issue for indigent populations. But now with implementation of health care reform fast approaching, patients will be required to take even more responsibility for their health, including adherence to medication regimens. Although no integrated health care structure is perfect, Kaiser’s integrative model fascinates me and allows its health care teams to implement successful adherence strategies.

For example, a Kaiser physician at the South San Francisco Medical Center conducted a hypertension study (“Improved Blood Pressure Control Associated With a Large-Scale Hypertension Program”) that compared their program’s results to those at the state and national level. The outcomes are startling:

  • The Kaiser Hypertension control rate nearly doubled, skyrocketing from 43.6 percent in 2001 to 80.4 percent in 2009.  
  • In contrast, the national mean of hypertensive control went from 55.4 to only 64.1 percent during the same time period.

One aspect of this program included using single pill combination therapy, which has been shown to boost adherence. In a slightly different approach to adherence in hypertension, Kaiser Permanente Northern California and UC San Francisco were recently awarded an $11 million grant to fund a stroke prevention program by targeting and treating hypertension among African Americans and young adults.

By Googling “Kaiser Permanente adherence” the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research appears. Their published research draws from Kaiser Permanente units throughout their network, collaborations with academic institutions nationwide, and the HMO Research Network – a consortium of 18 health care delivery organizations with both defined patient populations and formal, recognized research capabilities. These resources provide clinicians and pharmacists with a plethora of study designs and disease states from which to choose and evaluate.

In the study “Determination of optimized multidisciplinary care team for maximal antiretroviral therapy adherence,” for example, a multidisciplinary care team was assigned to patients with new antiretroviral drug regimens. Because this model translated to improved adherence rates, clinical teams around the country now use some variation of a multidisciplinary approach, enabling each discipline’s area of expertise to benefit the patient.

Another article from Kaiser — “Health Literacy and Antidepressant Medication Adherence Among Adults with Diabetes: The Diabetes Study of Northern California (DISTANCE)” – demonstrates that adherence is multifactorial.  This study’s conclusions underscore the importance of health care literacy components, simplifying health communications for treatment options, executing an enhanced public relations campaign around depression and monitoring refill rates.

In my experience, if someone with mental health issues does not take his or her medications, then regardless of disease state, the patient’s treatment falls off the track. I approach these difficult situations by drawing on the conclusions of the above studies:

  • First, is there a different message I could give the patient? Or am I reaching the patient at a level of health care literacy he could understand? For example, I had a deaf patient who found it tiresome writing messages back and forth to me. When I realized he “speaks” to people via a teletype machine, I began communicating with him via word processing software. This made our communications less cumbersome. And this improved adherence to his regime because he was less frustrated.
  • Next, the multidisciplinary approach is quite powerful. When I served HIV-positive patients in the South Bronx, if anything occurred that affected adherence, the prescriber, nurse, social worker or case manager immediately were made aware. Sometimes we would discontinue the regimen and other times we would tweak the regimen and get the patient back on treatment.

The real adherence tragedy for indigent patients is not whether they receive medication, but whether they have access to the tools, education and knowledge they need to take their meds as prescribed. Leveraging articles from resources like Kaiser’s Division of Research may be the solution to reversing the trend of low adherence.

Now we want to hear from you. If you’re a patient, has your doctor or pharmacist worked with you to improve med adherence? If you’re a provider, what resources have you found to be useful when helping patients understand why they should take meds as prescribed? Share your stories in the comments.

Categories: Access to Care

(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?

Targeted Therapies Open Door to Improved Outcomes and Lower Costs to Treat HCV

As we were reminded on World Hepatitis Day, early detection is critical to turning the tide of this “silent epidemic” that impacts millions. However, strategies to end the deadly effects of viral hepatitis don’t stop there. Personalized treatment is another essential tool that fuels better outcomes for patients with hepatitis C (HCV) while saving money in the long term for the health care system too. 

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

The importance of finding effective therapies for HCV is underscored by the reality that the disease often goes undetected, with an estimated 80 percent of Americans with HCV unaware of their status. Many HCV-positive people show mild to no symptoms, making it more likely for the illness to progress and become more expensive to treat as a result. 

Although safe and effective vaccines are available for hepatitis A and B, none exist for HCV. To help answer this need, Abbott created the fully automated RealTime HCV Genotype II Test – the first FDA-approved genotyping test in the United States for HCV patients – to facilitate targeted diagnosis and treatment that boosts desired outcomes.

This treatment-defining genotyping test empowers physicians to better pinpoint specific strains of HCV, determine which treatment option is best for the patient, and make more informed recommendations about when it should be administered. Available to individuals with chronic HCV, the test is not meant to act as a means to screen the blood prior to diagnosis.

So how does finding the right HCV treatment save money?

Targeted therapies like these are important for diseases like HCV because they reduce the “trial and error” of having to use additional treatments when the initial ones don’t work, saving money and time for patients and providers. Early detection, combined with follow-up care, can prevent patients from developing later stages of hepatitis that can mean more serious long-term conditions that are harder and more expensive to treat.

Treating HCV patients with end-stage liver disease, for example, is 2.5 times higher than treating those with early stage liver disease. Advanced HCV can also escalate to chronic hepatitis infection, a side effect of this being cirrhosis (scarring of the liver and poor liver function) and liver cancer. Treatment for these two conditions (which can include a liver transplant) can cost more than $30,000. Liver cancer treatment can be more than $62,000 for the first year, while the first-year cost of a liver transplant can be more than $267,000.

As more and more patients find themselves unable to afford treatments, HCV is becoming an increasingly larger financial burden on the health care system.

The annual costs of treating HCV in the United States could be up to $9 billion, and over the course of a lifetime the collective cost associated with treatments for chronic HCV is estimated to total $360 billion.

“As we see patients with more advanced liver disease, we see significantly more costs to the system,” says Dr. Stuart Gordon, author of the Henry Ford Study. “The key, therefore, is to treat and cure the infection early to prevent the consequences of more advanced disease and the associated economic burden.”  

Targeted therapies show great promise to improve outcomes while saving time and money by linking patients to the specific treatments they need at earlier points of diagnosis. But what can health systems do to make innovations like the HCV Genotype II Test accessible to more patients and increase the cost-savings benefit on a larger scale?

Does More Data = More Accurate Results?

Every year U.S. News & World Report comes out with its “Best Hospitals” rankings, and providers wear them like a badge of honor. No doubt the recognition is prestigious. But how many people know why hospitals are ranked as they are? We decided to dig a little deeper and break down the methodology behind the rankings. What we found might surprise you.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

“Best Hospitals” scores top hospitals across 16 specialties, from Cancer to Urology. For 12 of the 16 specialties, the rankings are based on performance measurements in structure, process and outcomes. Rankings in the remaining four specialties are based on hospital reputation as determined by a physician survey.

The methodology has evolved since the list was first published in 1990, transitioning from a heavy reliance on the reputation of hospitals (based on surveys of medical specialists) to incorporating more hard data to determine which providers make the cut. In an effort to increase accuracy and develop more objective, higher scoring methods, U.S. News & World Report moved away from expert opinion as a major factor of its criteria. Reputation now comprises only 32.5% of the overall score, except for hospitals in the areas of ophthalmology, psychiatry, rehabilitation and rheumatology.

The clinical data now used as the primary basis to rank hospitals measure patient outcomes and processes of care, based on factors including mortality, nurse staffing and advanced technologies. Hospitals also have to meet specific minimums for patient volume and are immediately considered high performing if they have a specialty like cancer or cardiology, among many others.

The power in this report lies in the objectivity as well as the information sharing from multiple, well-respected health care organizations and databases that exist as treasure troves for comprehensive patient information. The continuum of survey strategy — structure, process and outcome — defines essentially every step of the patient experience, from diagnosis to treatment to outcome.

For decades, much of patient care revolved around anecdotal teachings and recommendations. Hospital choices for individuals with complicated conditions often occurred subjectively and by word-of-mouth from both patients as well as caregivers. The strength in the “Best Hospitals” study design lies in the breadth of specialties, objectivity, number of hospitals, as well as the reachability and understandability of the results to the general public.  As the number of survey variables continues to increase by virtue of an aging population and the emergence of newer diseases and a greater number of treatment options, survey criteria will evolve and may correlate patient cost to outcome.  In other words, how much health care bang does one get for the buck?

For a detailed overview of the methodology behind “U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospitals,” click here.

Is this system for ranking hospitals as objective as it could be? Does making the qualification guidelines more data-driven increase the reliability of the outcomes?

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

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

Self-Service Kiosks Provide Innovative Path to Testing and Connection to Providers

The recent proliferation of affordable do-it-yourself consumer tools is one way patients are now empowered to take control of their health through prevention and wellness strategies.

One successful example is SoloHealth Station – a free, self-service kiosk offering comprehensive vision, blood pressure, weight and body mass index screenings. Currently located in select Wal-Mart, Safeway, Sam’s Club and Schnucks Markets, more than 10 million people have already used the kiosk in the past two years.

A $1.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health played a major role in expanding the company’s free medical screening technology, education and wellness programs to a wider audience, including traditionally underserved communities.

“Seventy-one percent of SoloHealth Station users are at medium to high risk of hypertension and 51 percent are overweight or obese,” says Bart Foster, CEO and Founder of SoloHealth. “At the core, we believe that awareness and action can lead to preventative measures that lead to lower costs. So, consumers who realize they are at high risk of BP or BMI would be more propelled to click through to access a doctor or search and scan our database. They are now empowered with knowledge they probably never had before and they want to act on it.”

Foster shares some compelling data that illustrates how SoloHealth links patients to providers:

  • Nearly 40,000 users have clicked through to one or more nearby doctors via the kiosk’s search function.
  • Users with high risk of blood pressure problems are 57 percent more likely to choose a physician.
  • Users with high risk of BMI problems are 97 percent more likely to select a doctor.
  • Users taking the Health Risk Assessment are over seven times more likely to choose a physician.

SoloHealth Station leverages an interactive touch-screen and incorporates videos as part of a 4.5-minute process that guides about 85,000 users each day through its tests. Individuals then receive a comprehensive follow-up health assessment, view their test results, get suggestions for improvement and are given access to a vast network of accredited medical professionals.

Some urge caution about self-service health kiosks, raising concerns about patient privacy, how companies might use personal health data, the quality of their medical information, and whether advertisers and other sponsors might shape their advice and referrals for commercial reasons.

Foster points out that even with the spread of health kiosks, medical professionals remain necessary.

“Technology like the SoloHealth Station can make access to health services and tools easy, free and convenient,” he says. “We believe people will use these accessible tools to take better control of their health care. Once enlightened about a potential health problem, the majority of consumers will act. And knowing is better than not knowing, because prevention leads to better outcomes and lower costs.”

Have you used a SoloHealth Station or other self-help kiosk? Would you do it again? Why or why not? Comment below.

Categories: Access to Care