Sunday, July 5, 2009

Disease Prevention For All And Care Coordination For Those With Catastrophic Illness

The care coordination described in the previous post is a major part of the new CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield plan. But there are three other important components.

First, the PCP will receive increased compensation for all of his or her CF-insured patients, not just those with complex chronic illness. Hopefully, this will be enough to assure that every patient gets the time and attention needed for the best possible care. It also means, hopefully, that the PCP will be less inclined to quickly refer to a specialist rather than taking the time needed to sort out the patient’s problem [This happens a lot today and drives ever more specialist visits.] By the same logic, it is anticipated that the physician will do a more complete history and physical exam, negating the need for more tests and procedures. The result is better care for the patient, a more satisfied patient since the doctor will not be in a “rush” and a more satisfied physician. Better care at lower total cost.

Second, CareFirst recognizes that over 90% of their clients remain with them year after year so it is financially logical to try to assure good preventive care. This will cost more today but should pay off in the years to come with lower costs because the patient will remain healthy. So in this new practice arrangement, CareFirst will pay for any preventive/ screening program/ test that is well defined by evidence. This might include cholesterol measurements, mammography and colonoscopy and it might include dietary consultation, or a smoking cessation program. As an added incentive to get this type of preventive care done, CF will waive any co-pays or deductibles that the patient might have to otherwise pay.

Finally, it is recognized that some small percentage of patients will develop a truly catastrophic condition such that the PCP can no longer easily coordinate the care. These are the 5% of patients that consume a very large portion of the healthcare dollar. This is the patient that must be referred to a specialty center or an academic medical center, have major surgery or perhaps receive an organ transplant. My own observations over the years demonstrate that these are the types of patients who get less than the best possible care because the hand offs and referrals among providers are less than satisfactory. This is where quality breaks down, where safety issues arise, and where all too often excess tests and procedures get done. And since no one is orchestrating the entire care program, the patient is left with well intentioned caregivers but less than the best care.
In this situation, CareFirst will develop an incentive-based relationship with the specialty provider – probably a hospital system – to assure care coordination. The hospital system will assign a “navigator” to each such patient. The navigator will have the responsibility to be sure that the care of the patient within the system is well coordinated, just as the PCP does in the community setting. This navigator will work the interface among the myriad specialists, departments, even hospitals and centers that the patient must utilize for his or her care. The result could be much better care quality yet at a substantially reduced total cost.

The whole concept here is to coordinate the care that the patient receives with the expectation that the patient will be better served, the providers will be more satisfied and the total costs will be reduced. It will mean a real change in how the primary care physician functions – a change from being an intervener to be an orchestrator. And a major change for the hospital system in that it will need to become an orchestrator as well, not just a place for specialty care. And it is a change for the insurer, one that accepts that care coordination and disease prevention costs money but recognizes that the end result is better care at a lower cost. This plan uses various incentives to align needs – we could say that it gives rights but with corresponding responsibility.

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Praise for Dr Schimpff

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