With the United States spending the most per capita on health care among industrialized nations but having the worst aggregate health outcomes, there’s a stark need for improvement, according to an expert at HM20 Virtual, hosted by the Society of Hospital Medicine.
Broadening the focus beyond the four walls of the hospital can bring better results while also saving money, said Adam Myers, MD, chief of population health at Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Myers described the way his health system has begun to pay more careful attention to the needs of specific kinds of patients and tailoring posthospitalization care accordingly, with in-person and virtual home visits, and postdischarge clinics.
With an increasing attention to value, health care organizations have to change their structure or risk going the way of the Choluteca Bridge in Honduras, Dr. Myers said. The Choluteca Bridge was built to be hurricane-proof, but was nonetheless rendered useless in 1998 after Hurricane Mitch shifted the very course of the river beneath it.
Similarly, the way health care is delivered often does not meet the needs of the population.
“Our national system has been focused almost entirely on inpatient care,” Dr. Myers said. “A lot of the transition in care is outside of facilities and outside the walls of our inpatient settings.”
Instead, he said a focus on population health — understanding and tending to the needs of people rather than just treating them when they show up at clinics — should involve more outpatient care that is less centralized, fees based on outcomes and patient experience rather than simply volume of services, team approaches rather than single-provider care, and a general attention to preserving health rather than treating sickness.
At Cleveland Clinic, care teams try to understand not just the care that is medically necessary, but what is wanted and justified, as well as how to deliver that care safely, reliably, and affordably with outcomes that patients and families desire.
The results are striking. After increasing the number of ambulatory patient “touches” for those with chronic disease, inpatient care — disliked by patients and costly to health centers — decreased. From the first quarter of 2018, outpatient visits increased 9%, while inpatient visits dropped 7.4%, Dr. Myers said.
“As we managed patients more effectively on an outpatient basis, their need for inpatient care diminished,” he said. “It works.”
Cleveland Clinic has also made changes designed to reduce costly readmissions, using virtual visits, house calls, time reserved for team meetings to identify patients with gaps in their care, and attention to nonmedical determinants of health, such as assessing fall risk at home and addressing lack of nutritious food options in a community.
The health system has seen a 28% reduction in the cost of care attributed to house calls, 12% cost reduction attributed to better care coordination, and a 49% decrease in hospital days for “superutilizers” of the ED, Dr. Myers said.
Postdischarge clinics — where patients can be seen for the first few visits after hospitalization — have also been valuable for many health systems, because they are closely in tune with what happened during the inpatient stay. These clinics are staffed by hospitalists, interns, residents, or ambulatory clinicians. Dr. Myers said hospitalists tend to have an improved perspective after working in a discharge clinic, with more concern about a patient’s needs once they leave the hospital bed.
“Those hospitalists that I know who have participated in programs like this start to act a bit more like primary care physicians,” he said.
In a Q&A session after Dr. Myers’ presentation, he discussed how hospitalists can affect the many layers of health care policy, factors that often overlap with population health.
He noted that medical care accounts for only about 20% of patient outcomes – the rest involve social and environmental factors.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m not satisfied only impacting 20% of health outcomes,” he said. First, physicians need to understand what is happening in their communities, and the health policies that are preventing improvement. Then, build partnerships to help fix these problems. He pointed to lead poisoning as an example.
“If you think about it, lead poisoning is a social housing problem that shows up as a health care issue. Unless we are getting out into the community and mitigating the root problem, we will have to treat it over and over again,” he said.
Dr. Myers reported no relevant financial disclosures.
This article originally appeared in The Hospitalist, an official publication of the Society of Hospital Medicine.