The hospitalist concept was established on the foundation of timely, informative handoffs to primary-care physicians (PCPs) once a patient’s hospital stay is complete. With sicker patients and shorter hospital stays, pending test results, and complex post-discharge medication regimens to sort out, this handoff is crucial to successful discharges. But what if a discharged patient can’t get in to see the PCP, or has no established PCP?
Recent research on hospital readmissions by the Dartmouth Atlas Project found that only 42% of hospitalized Medicare patients had any contact with a primary-care clinician within 14 days of discharge.1 For patients with ongoing medical needs, such missed connections are a major contributor to hospital readmissions, and thus a target for hospitals and HM groups wanting to control their readmission rates before Medicare imposes reimbursement penalties starting in October 2012 (see “Value-Based Purchasing Raises the Stakes,” May 2011, p. 1).
One proposed solution is the post-discharge clinic, typically located on or near a hospital’s campus and staffed by hospitalists, PCPs, or advanced-practice nurses. The patient can be seen once or a few times in the post-discharge clinic to make sure that health education started in the hospital is understood and followed, and that prescriptions ordered in the hospital are being taken on schedule.
—Lauren Doctoroff, MD, hospitalist, director, post-discharge clinic, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston
Mark V. Williams, MD, FACP, FHM, professor and chief of the division of hospital medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, describes hospitalist-led post-discharge clinics as “Band-Aids for an inadequate primary-care system.” What would be better, he says, is focusing on the underlying problem and working to improve post-discharge access to primary care. Dr. Williams acknowledges, however, that sometimes a patch is needed to stanch the blood flow—e.g., to better manage care transitions—while waiting on healthcare reform and medical homes to improve care coordination throughout the system.
Working in a post-discharge clinic might seem like “a stretch for many hospitalists, especially those who chose this field because they didn’t want to do outpatient medicine,” says Lauren Doctoroff, MD, a hospitalist who directs a post-discharge clinic at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston. “But there are times when it may be appropriate for hospital-based doctors to extend their responsibility out of the hospital.”
Dr. Doctoroff also says that working in such a clinic can be practice-changing for hospitalists. “All of a sudden, you have a different view of your hospitalized patients, and you start to ask different questions while they’re in the hospital than you ever did before,” she explains.
What is a Post-Discharge Clinic?
The post-discharge clinic, also known as a transitional-care clinic or after-care clinic, is intended to bridge medical coverage between the hospital and primary care. The clinic at BIDMC is for patients affiliated with its Health Care Associates faculty practice “discharged from either our hospital or another hospital, who need care that their PCP or specialist, because of scheduling conflicts, cannot provide within the needed time frame,” Dr. Doctoroff says.
Four hospitalists from BIDMC’s large HM group were selected to staff the clinic. The hospitalists work in one-month rotations (a total of three months on service per year), and are relieved of other responsibilities during their month in clinic. They provide five half-day clinic sessions per week, with a 40-minute-per-patient visit schedule. Thirty minutes are allotted for patients referred from the hospital’s ED who did not get admitted to the hospital but need clinical follow-up.