As mentioned, one of the biggest barriers to smoother care transitions is the fact that primary care physicians often have little or no information about their patients’ hospitalizations. A review of the literature published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2007 found that physicians had received a hospital discharge summary about their patients, and had it on hand, in only 12% to 34% of first postdischarge visits. Even when discharge summaries are received, they often lack key information, such as test results, treatment course, discharge medications, and follow-up plans. The situation is even worse for those patients who have no usual source of care.
Patients often do not consistently receive follow-up care after leaving the hospital. Among Medicare beneficiaries readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of a discharge, half have no contact with a physician between their first hospitalization and their readmission. (Figure 8-1 shows 30-day hospital readmissions under Medicare as a percentage of admissions, by state.)
FIGURE 8-1 Medicare 30-day hospital readmissions as a percentage of admissions, 2009. (From Commonwealth Fund [2009, October]. Medicare 30-day hospital readmissions as a percent of admissions: National metrics. Washington, DC: Commonwealth Fund.)
This problem may be worsening because of an ongoing shift in practice patterns. Increasingly, outpatient primary care physicians are no longer visiting their patients when hospitalized, and hospitalized patients’ care is now being managed by hospitalists, physicians who only treat patients in the hospital. Although hospitalists are generally believed to have improved the quality and coordination of patients’ in-hospital care, their presence, and the removal of patients’ outpatient primary care physicians from the hospital, has led to an increased need for care coordination among providers that doesn’t always occur.
Care Transition Models.
Several models for improving transitions after hospitalization have been developed and rigorously tested. One of the most widely disseminated is the Care Transitions Intervention developed by Eric Coleman at the University of Colorado. This approach involves transitions coaches, primarily nurses, and social workers, who first meet patients in the hospital and then follow up through home visits and phone calls over a 4-week period.
The coaches promote development of patients’ skills in four key self-care areas: managing medications; scheduling and preparing for follow-up care; recognizing and responding to red flags that could indicate a worsening condition, such as the onset of a fever or worsening breathing problems; and taking ownership of a core set of personal health 75information by having patients brainstorm and ask their providers questions about their conditions or self-care routine. In a large integrated delivery system in Colorado, the Care Transitions Intervention reduced 30-day hospital readmissions by 30%, reduced 180-day hospital readmissions by 17%, and cut average costs per patient by nearly 20%. The intervention has been adopted by more than 700 organizations nationwide.
Another rigorously tested transitional care model, developed by Mary Naylor and her colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, involves a longer period of intervention targeted at a high-risk, high-cost subset of older adult patients, such as those hospitalized for heart failure. In six academic and community hospitals in Philadelphia, this approach reduced readmissions by 36% and costs by 39% per patient (nearly $5000) during the 12 months following hospitalization. Under the Naylor model, an advanced practice nurse not only coaches patients and their caregivers to better manage their care but also coordinates a follow-up care plan with patients’ physicians and provides regular home visits with 7-day-a-week telephone availability.