Public Policy

Hospitalists Play Integral Roles in HHS-Funded Innovation Projects


In May and June, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in May and June announced 107 healthcare innovations grants to improve coordination of care and reduce costs. The grants, a provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), range from $1 million to $30 million. HHS anticipates that the projects will reduce healthcare spending by $254 million over the next three years and provide "new ideas on how to deliver better health, improved care, and lower costs to people enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid and [the] Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP)."

Hospitalists played key roles in planning and developing several of the projects. Common themes include coordination and integration of services, promotion of community collaborations, integrating behavioral and physical care, and the use of telemedicine—many of the same approaches utilized by SHM's Project BOOST and other national initiatives for preventing unnecessary readmissions.

In Atlanta, Emory University's Center for Critical Care received a $10.7 million grant to deploy 40 nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) trained in critical care to underserved and rural ICUs in Georgia. In many of the targeted hospitals, hospitalists manage patients in the ICU, but this program brings an additional layer of staffing and expertise to the care, allowing patients to stay in their beds rather than having to be transferred, says Daniel Owens, MBA, the center’s director of operations and senior administrator of the division of hospital medicine at Emory.

The project will bring NPs and PAs from participating hospitals to Emory for an intensive, six-month, critical-care residency. "If they don't have these folks, we'll help to identify staff for the jobs," he adds.

At Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., a $2.4 million project to reduce rehospitalizations for a high-risk geriatric patients aims to close the gaps in care transitions between hospital, outpatient, post-acute, and extended-care settings, says Vanderbilt hospitalist Eduard Vasilevskis, MD. The project will employ transition advocates or coordinators in the hospital to improve communication at both ends, with evidence-based protocols to improve discharge planning. Long-term care providers will be offered Web-based training and video conferencing.

"The goal is to break the cycle of rehospitalization," says Dr. Vasilevskis, "but if patients need to come back to the hospital, there will be someone involved in their care who is familiar with the settings where they’ve come from."

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston received $4.9 million for its Post-Acute Care Transitions program (PACT), which links the hospital to six affiliated primary care practices using a bundle of post-acute care interventions, care-transition specialists, and dedicated clinical pharmacists. Nurses remain in contact with patients by telephone for 30 days post-hospital discharge and coordinate the services of extended-care facilities and visiting nurses. Pharmacists perform in-hospital medication reconciliation and patient education, says hospitalist Lauren Doctoroff, MD, FHM. She and Julius Yang, MD, BIDMC medical director of inpatient quality, helped develop the pilot program, which began in August 2011.

"These care-transitions specialists offer us an added level of patient support and a different level of integration focused on risk assessment of such issues as social supports and problems with medical compliance, which can be used by the inpatient team to come up with the most rational and ideal discharge plan," Dr. Doctoroff says. "One of my colleagues said to me, ‘I feel so much better knowing there is this added level of support for patients after discharge.'"

The HHS grants reflect an important recognition that what happens to patients following discharge partly reflects what happens in the hospital but also depends on collaborations with post-acute providers, Dr. Doctoroff says.

"Hospitalists can't do everything, but they need their eye out of the hospital on post-acute providers in order to deliver the best care," she adds.

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