Total knee replacement (TKR) is a reliable treatment for end-stage arthritis of the knee, resulting in pain relief and return of function. While surgeons have historically focused on surgical technique and implant selection as important factors on the path to a successful outcome, additional care elements may play similarly important roles. As hospital length of stay continues to decrease, more of the patient’s postoperative care occurs in a postacute setting, with home care becoming a more important component of a well-designed care path. Early experience suggests that this shift toward home care has resulted in a more cost-effective approach with improved outcomes.1–4
Although TKR has traditionally been viewed as a surgical procedure, an important shift in thinking has increased recognition that TKR is best viewed as part of a spectrum of care required to obtain an end result. Viewing the procedure as an episode of care is gaining significant traction. In this approach, the surgical procedure and its attendant features and factors remain paramount and central in driving outcomes, but the care that precedes and follows the procedure can have a significant impact on important measures of success. From the patient’s perspective, this view is intuitive; ie, the outcome of the intervention can only be assessed when complete healing has occurred and the patient has returned to routine activities of daily living (ADL). As such, a more holistic or global view of the episode is warranted and is receiving increasing attention.5–8
INNOVATIVE PAYMENT METHODS AND RESOURCE ALLOCATION
Recently, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) launched a call for innovative payment methods for episodes of care. Traditionally, CMS has paid for each component of care separately; the new approach, represented in this call for proposals and driven by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), is to pay for care based on defined episodes. This method of payment is sometimes referred to as “bundling,” in that the payment for a group of services is linked into a single payment. Although the details and definitions of the episodes may vary, the conceptual framework supports the integration of care along a continuum. By paying for care based on the entire episode, CMS believes it can encourage more rational allocation of resources along the care path.9
It is widely recognized that one area where care can be better managed is during the transitions that occur at many points along the care path—for example, transition from operating theater to postoperative unit and then to the acute care hospital setting, and transition from acute care hospital to a postacute setting.1,4,10
When a patient no longer requires hospital services but needs the benefits of continued care, the transition to postacute care must be managed carefully. Optimizing this transition and choosing among postacute care venues can significantly affect cost and outcomes of the procedure. In fact, there is increasing evidence that the transition from hospitalization to postacute care has been significantly undermanaged, with deferral of some important considerations until after the process has already begun.1,4,10 Neglecting this important transition results in unwarranted variation in process and outcomes. For example, physicians often delegate decisions regarding the location and intensity of postacute services to other team members. Patient preferences and, at times, misconceptions can drive the choices for postacute care, with patients erroneously believing that one venue is inherently better than another or that more is somehow better than less. Such patterns can lead to over- or underutilization, with care unmatched to individual need or circumstance. Careful scrutiny by an engaged team of the resources necessary for patients as they transition to the postacute component of the episode is likely to result in a more rational, cost-effective approach to care. It is also likely to increase patient satisfaction and improve patient outcome measures.5,10–13
MEETING THE CHALLENGE OF INCREASED DEMAND WITH HOME CARE
With the rising incidence of knee arthritis, the demand for TKR is expected to more than double in the coming years.14 This increased utilization is driven by an aging population that desires to remain active, as well as by evidence suggesting health benefits associated with increased activity levels. Along with these demographic and utilization trends, another evolution in joint replacement derives from patients’ expectation of continuously improving results. Patients measure the success of TKR not only by relative reduction in pain, but also by other outcome metrics, including, importantly, return to sport or work.5,7 The tandem challenge posed by increased demand for services and increased patient expectations regarding outcomes is testing health care providers as they consider the resources that will be required to meet the demand.
Health care systems, payers, and physicians are looking for ways to more efficiently meet this growing need for TKR services in the context of finite health care resources subject to competing demand from several clinical entities. Regardless of TKR’s record of clinical success, the resources applied to this orthopedic intervention come at the expense of the same resources being applied to other health care needs. As demand is unlikely to wane, the only rational approach is to redesign care delivery in favor of a more efficient model. In order to meet the demand with the available resources, several goals need to be achieved: fewer inpatient hospital and postacute bed days consumed by joint replacement services, better streamlined care paths, and improved engagement of the patient and his or her home-based support network. Key to this process is driving care to the home environment, provided that quality is at least comparable and cost is significantly less.3,15–17
Postoperative rehabilitation and physical therapy is essential to restoration of function after TKR. It is therefore no surprise that rehabilitation and physical therapy make up a significant proportion of the home care services for this patient population.8,17,18 Among its advantages, therapy in the home environment gives the therapist the opportunity to identify and address the patient’s unique needs in his or her own home. In addition, family and other support personnel often feel more comfortable assuming responsibility for assisting with care in a familiar setting. Tailored therapy in the home setting can improve safety and satisfaction and speed the resumption of ADL; it is increasingly seen as an essential component of the care path.4,11
Recently, care path designs have been subject to careful analyses that compare in-home rehabilitation outcomes with outcomes achieved in an inpatient environment. Observational, retrospective, and prospective study designs have confirmed that the in-home rehabilitation model of care delivery is not only viable, but in many circumstances preferable.5,10,12,17,19 The quality is comparable to inpatient care for most TKR patient populations and the cost and resource utilization intensity are considerably reduced. Such reports have lent credence to the movement to incorporate home care services into successful post–joint replacement care paths. The approach appears to have a large potential for benefit with very little risk. Strategies that aim to more rationally deliver needed rehabilitation services at home promise to keep TKR services within the reach of our strained health care resources.