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Care Coordination in a Retirement Community – Better Care at Lower Costs

Posted Jul 15 2009 8:11pm
Older individuals tend to have more complex chronic illnesses and they need lots of preventive care. The Erickson Retirement Communities determined to learn if attentive primary care would lead to better quality care, better quality of life and yet lower costs overall. By way of background, their basic goal was to improve the quality of life for their residents – good marketing. So they built in nutrition, exercise and other programs for the residents who live in a campus-like setting. Yet they found that their biggest failure from the retirees’ perspective was medical management. The Community hired a physician who initially spent about thirty minutes with each patient’s visit. The word got around and more and more residents signed up for his care. Once that happened he had to cut back until he was seeing each patient for about ten to twelve minutes per visit. And so the residents were again not satisfied. So the Community hired additional full time primary care physicians and paid them enough in salary over what Medicare paid so that they could afford to take the needed time with each patient. It quickly became apparent that the residents liked this approach but it meant only about 400 or so patients per physician rather than the national average of about 1500+ for a primary care doctor. It was more expensive up front but Erickson found that the number of hospitalizations for this group declined by about 50% suggesting that good coordination of care was effective in not only increasing satisfaction and quality but also in reducing costs. Of course, the reduction benefited Medicare but Erickson still had the extra expense of the added physicians to make the program work. Erickson then went to Medicare and petitioned for a demonstration project. To date over four thousand retirees in multiple retirement communities joined this Medicare Advantage program. The results again confirmed the value of good care coordination, the value of a computerized medical record and orchestration of chronic care by a primary care physician who could spend adequate time with each patient. At one retirement center, inpatient hospital days dropped from a national average of 2096 per 1000 Medicare enrollees per year to less than 500. And since these retirement communities generally have older residents, age adjusting the data meant that it was equivalent to only about 200 hospital days per enrolled resident. Another key metric is an unplanned return to the hospital shortly after discharge. The national rate for Medicare recipients is near 25% but the Erickson plan has kept these to less than 10%.They found that one key to success was having the primary care physician be the “orchestrator” among all of the patient’s specialists, being sure that the patient’s medications were appropriate, not mutually adverse, and in the correct dosage for a geriatric person. The primary care physician attends the resident when hospitalized, bringing the patient’s electronic medical record to the hospital on the doctor’s laptop. [They found that if the patients were cared for only by the hospital-based hospitalist, the tendency was for the acute problem to be well managed but for other issues to get out of control leading to longer lengths of stay and various complications.] As a result, they can assure that the individual continues to get appropriate care for all of their needs, not just the one problem that sent them to the hospital this time. Care coordinators are used as well but in tandem with the primary care physician who has the needed time with each patient. They conduct regularly scheduled programs of health management. There are behavior modification courses as in employer-based wellness programs but also specific programs for monitoring, coaching and prevention for specific high risk diseases. To reiterate, the program provides what a typical primary care physician either does not or cannot provide today [although most would like to provide.] It includes the behavior modification programs, plus the monitoring and coaching for patients with cardiac, chronic lung, diabetes and other diseases found in wellness programs sponsored by employers. To this is added aggressive management of these complex chronic diseases with close care coordination from their very beginning rather than when they become problematic later on. There is extensive use of non-physician providers which helps to keep the costs down but the contact level high. In short it is a wellness program, a care management program and a disease management program all rolled into one.
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