Dr. Hilger led a multidisciplinary team to develop care plans (they call them “restriction care plans”) and found that they dramatically reduced the rate of hospital admissions and ED visits for these patients. Hearing about this experience served as a kick in the pants for me, so I did much the same thing at “my” hospital. We have now developed plans for more than 20 patients and found that they visit our ED and are admitted less often. And, anecdotally at least, hospitalists and other hospital staff find that the care plans reduce, at least a little, the stress of caring for these patients.
Although it seems clear that care plans reduce visits to the hospital that develops them, I suspect that some of these patients aren’t consuming any fewer health-care resources. They may just seek care from a different hospital.
My home state of Washington is working to develop individual patient care plans available to all hospitals in the state. A system called the Emergency Department Information Exchange (EDIE) has been adopted by nearly all the hospitals in the state. It allows them to share information on ED visits and such things as care plans with one another. For example, through EDIE, each hospital could see the opiate dosing schedule and admission criteria agreed to by patient and primary-care physician.
So it seems that care plans and the technology to share them can make it more difficult for patients to harm themselves by visiting many hospitals to get excessive opiate prescriptions, for example. This should benefit the patient and lower ED and hospital expenditures for these patients. But we don’t know what portion of costs simply is shifted to other settings, so there is no easy way to know the net effect on health-care costs.
An important unanswered question is whether these care plans improve patient well-being. It seems clear they do in some cases, but it is hard to know whether some patients may be worse off because of the plan.
I think nearly every hospital would benefit from a care plan committee composed of at least one hospitalist, ED physician, a nursing representative, and potentially other disciplines (see “Care Plan Attributes,” above). Our committee includes our inpatient psychiatrist, a really valuable contributor.
Dr. Nelson has been a practicing hospitalist since 1988. He is co-founder and past president of SHM, and principal in Nelson Flores Hospital Medicine Consultants. He is co-director for SHM’s “Best Practices in Managing a Hospital Medicine Program” course. Write to him at [email protected].