And if you are in another city or if you don’t have a local physician with all of your old records, the information gap is far worse.
Once again, we could incentivize patients to have an up-to-date PHR with reduced premiums, or lower deductibles or copayments. We could look for ways to incentivize PCPs and hospitals to help patients build and maintain their PHR. We could make it a matter of course that a patient’s PHR would be updated at each intersection with healthcare information (e.g., the pharmacy or the lab or each office visit).
Somehow, we have evolved into a fragmented health system. We need to repair the disconnect between patients and physicians. The professional pact between the patient and their primary physician needs to be in place until the patient and the “next” physician agree to the handoff of responsibility. As hospitalists, we see this at both ends of the continuum. Patients shouldn’t just be “sent” to the ED or the hospital, especially not when they are acutely ill. Their personal physician, their medical home, should “arrange” for an orderly transfer of care. This would involve a transfer of information (possibly facilitated by an updated PHR), but as much by the assurance that the accepting physician or institution is prepared for the handoff, acknowledges this to the PCP, and that the patient understands the handoff has taken place.
In the same way, patients would not be just “sent out” from the hospital. The treating physician (it could be the hospitalist, but also the surgeon or cardiologist) would remain the doctor of record—the first resource for patients’ question and issues—until another “receiving” physician has accepted the handoff, acknowledges this role, and the patient agrees.
We could rapidly shift this process by allowing the patient to decide when the hospitalization has ended. We could change the system overnight by making one of the conditions for payment for a hospitalization (to the physicians and the hospital) that the patient has signed off that indeed the hospitalization has ended.
This might include a discussion of chronic medications to continue, acute therapies to complete, understanding by the patient of where and when to receive follow-up testing and evaluation, and a clear understanding of which physician is now accountable for future issues and questions as patients travel from acute illness to normal function.
There certainly are economic and societal issues. Not everyone has a PCP or can pay for their outpatient care, and this could be a full-employment plan for liability attorneys, but in the end I am confident medical professionals would create the linkages that would minimize the deep white space patients find themselves in once they are wheeled to the front door of their hospitals.
Creatively Complete the Hospitalization
In a perfect world, everyone would have a functional, robust medical home to return to after an acute hospitalization. Unfortunately, a patient-centered medical home (PCMH) is much more of a hope than a reality for most Americans. While we are working to create a better “horizontal” hospitalization, there are clear gaps in the vertical-care world.
If we are going to be responsible for bundled care that encompasses pre-admit and post-discharge care (e.g., 30 days after discharge), then we must beef up our outpatient capabilities.
Hopefully in the long run, this can be supplied by a reinvigorated and reinvented medical home, but it is still a long way off. If payment and accountability continue to blur just when the hospitalization ends, then hospitals (and hospitalists) and Medicare and insurers will need to be creative in how and who will manage the patient. We’ll need to solve the issues around patients who are no longer sick enough to require a hospital bed but clearly are not back to their steady state.