When Harbor UCLA Medical Center, a teaching hospital in Torrance, Calif., and a major safety-net facility for Los Angeles County, looked at its 30-day readmissions data, it found that readmissions for heart failure patients had increased by about 25% in just one year.
“We parsed the data and said we’re going have to sort this out,” explains Charles McKay, MD, a cardiologist at the hospital. “Then the opportunity to join Project BOOST came along. It’s been helpful to have their tools, mentors, and the whole collaborative experience.”
Harbor UCLA is one of seven Southern California hospitals participating in the yearlong Readmissions Reduction Collaborative, co-sponsored by SHM and the Hospital Association of Southern California (HASC). The hospitals convened in early June in Montebello, Calif., to report results from their quality initiatives. Four of the hospitals reported reductions in readmissions ranging from 24% to 55%. The other three were slower in implementing their quality processes and are just now starting to see results, executives said.
Project BOOST is a national quality initiative created by SHM to improve hospital discharges and care transitions while reducing readmissions—a growing focus for hospitals and health policy makers. About 100 participating sites across the country have benefited from BOOST’s expert mentoring and collaboration, as well as access to such tools as the “teachback” communication techniques and the “8Ps” comprehensive patient risk assessment.
Harbor UCLA’s multidisciplinary readmissions team, with Dr. McKay as its physician champion, zeroed in on heart failure and developed a Cardiovascular Open Access Rapid Evaluation (CORE) service, which he describes as a sort of observation or clinical decisions unit aimed at relieving pressure on the ED. Open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., the CORE service coordinates medical interventions—stress tests and trips to the cardiac catheter lab, for example—for patients who have not been admitted to the hospital.
The team also focuses on discharged patients who return to the hospital within 72 hours, before the hospital could place post-discharge follow-up phone calls. Many of these patients could not be reached after they left the hospital.
“These are the patients where the system has failed,” Dr. McKay says. “But you could flip it over and say they are our biggest opportunity. That’s where BOOST comes in, to talk about interventions during hospitalization, implementing teachback, streamlining the coordination of care.”
BOOST aims to accelerate the quality-improvement (QI) process, identifying readmission risks and making them a higher priority for nurses and doctors to mobilize resources in the discharge process. “That’s where BOOST shone at our institution,” Dr. McKay says, “and where we still have a lot to learn.”
Harbor UCLA also brought a home healthcare representative onto the team, engaged a discharge advocate, and referred appropriate patients to a heart failure disease management registry. Over the year of the collaborative, it posted a 5.5% decrease in readmissions of heart failure patients.
Hospitalists do not have prominent roles at most HASC readmissions sites; traditional hospitalist services are less common in Southern California hospitals, in part due to the prevalence of independent practice associations (IPAs), which act as intermediaries between physicians and health plans in the region, explains Z. Joseph Wanski, MD, FACE, medical director of the public L.A. Care Health Plan, which co-sponsored the readmissions collaborative. “The IPA is in charge of its members’ hospital and post-hospital care,” he says.
Dr. Wanski, a practicing endocrinologist and a hospitalist at California Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles, says L.A. Care is now testing the use of hospitalists at some of its contracted acute-care facilities.
In many cases, readmissions involve avoidable costs, as well as reduce patient satisfaction. “If they do not get rehospitalized, patients are happier, their caretakers are happier, and I feel the quality of their care is better,” Dr. Wanski says. “If you can keep the person well at home, make sure they take their medications, hopefully not go back to the ER, and get on with their lives—all those things together are why we’re supporting this collaborative.”
But hospitalists, especially in larger groups, potentially have the leverage to negotiate access to services and the care coordination needed to reduce hospital costs and preventable readmissions, Dr. McKay notes. “In 2012, hospitalists are key, and we need to find a way to make readmission reduction part of their job description, so that they can direct that,” he says.
—Z. Joseph Wanski, MD, FACE, medical director, L.A. Care Health Plan, endocrinologist/hospitalist, California Hospital Medical Center, Los Angeles
At Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys, which employs three part-time hospitalists who also maintain busy office practices, “the hospitalists have been very cooperative with our project,” reports Adriana Quintero, MSW, the hospital’s full-time Project BOOST facilitator. “They see a lot of our patients in their offices.” The physicians have agreed to carve out time to see, within seven days, discharge patients going home without scheduled appointments with their primary-care physicians (PCPs).
“We find that many of our discharged patients do not call their primary-care physicians for post-discharge appointments” and decline the hospital team’s offers for help—which makes it important for the discharge coordinator to follow up as soon as possible after the patient goes home, Quintero says.
At the collaborative congress in early June, team member Alice Gunderson reported results for Saint Francis Hospital in Lynwood. Gunderson, who sits on the hospital’s quality and safety board, has been a volunteer patient family advocate (PFA) for the past year and a half; she was inspired by her own experience as a family caregiver for her husband and mother, both of whom were Saint Francis patients. Gunderson challenged those in the audience to bring a PFA from their own hospital to the next BOOST meeting.
“From my point of view, wherever healthcare goes, the patient is becoming more educated, with all of the communication technology that is out there, and claiming that empowerment,” Gunderson says. “We must all work together, not in separate silos, for the best outcomes, and we can all learn from one another.”
Larry Beresford is a freelance writer in Oakland, Calif.