Practice Management Toolbox

Constructing an inflammatory bowel disease patient–centered medical home


Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are life-long chronic diseases with high morbidity. There has been remarkable progress in the understanding of disease pathophysiology, leading to new medical therapies and surgical approaches for the management of IBD. These trends have resulted in a marked increase in the cost of IBD care, with current estimates ranging from $14 to $31 billion in both direct and indirect costs in the United States.1

IBD patients have unique behavioral, preventive, and therapeutic care requirements.2,3 Because of the complexity of care, there is a large degree of segmentation and fragmentation of IBD management across health care systems and among multiple providers. This siloed approach often falls short of seamless, efficient, high-quality, patient-centered care.

To address the increasing costs and fragmentation of chronic disease management, population-based health care has emerged as a new concept with an emphasis on reward for value, not volume. Two such examples of population-based health care include accountable care organizations and patient-centered medical homes. This concept relies on the development of new payment models and shifts the risk to the providers.4,5 Primary care providers play a central coordinating role in these new models.6,7 However, the role of specialists is less well defined, with limited sharing of risk for the care and costs of populations.

The IBD specialty medical home (SMH) implemented at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) is an example of a new model of care. The IBD SMH is constructed to align incentives and provide up-front resources to manage a population of patients with IBD optimally – including treatment of their inflammatory disease, coexisting pain, and psychological issues.8-10 In the case of the IBD SMH, the gastroenterologist is the principal provider for a cohort of IBD patients. The gastroenterologist is responsible for the coordination and management of health care of this population and places the IBD patient at the center of the medical universe.

In this article, we draw from our rich partnership between the UPMC Health Plan (HP) and Health System to describe the construction and deployment of the IBD SMH. Although this model is new and we still are learning, we already have seen an improvement in the overall quality of life, decreased utilization, and reduction in total cost of care for this IBD SMH population.

Constructing an IBD medical home: where to begin?

In conjunction with the UPMC HP, we designed and established an IBD patient-centered SMH, designated in July 2015 as UPMC Total Care–Inflammatory Bowel Disease.11 The development of the medical home was facilitated by our unique integrated delivery and finance system. The UPMC HP provided important utilization data on their IBD population, which allowed for focused enrollment of the highest-utilizer patients. In addition, the UPMC HP funded positions that we hired directly as employees of our IBD SMH. These positions included the following: two nurse coordinators, two certified nurse practitioners, a dietitian, a social worker, and a psychiatrist. The UPMC HP also provided their own HP employees to work with our IBD SMH: The rare and chronic disease team included two nurses and a social worker who made house calls for a select group of patients (identified based on the frequency of their health care use). The HP also provided health coaches who worked directly with our patients on lifestyle modifications, such as smoking cessation and exercise programs. Finally, the UPMC HP worked with the IBD SMH to provide support for a variety of operational functions. Examples of these important efforts included data analytics through their department of health economics, regular collaboration to assist the provider team in modifying the program, publicizing the IBD SMH to their members, and facilitating approval of IBD medications through their pharmacy department.

We acknowledge that the development and implementation of an IBD SMH will vary from region to region and depend on the relationship of payers and providers. Thus, the blueprint of our UPMC IBD Medical Home may not be replicated readily in other centers or regions. However, there are several core elements that we believe are necessary in constructing any SMH: 1) a payer willing to partner with the provider, 2) a patient population with specific characteristics, 3) a physician champion, and 4) prespecified goals and measures of success.

Payer or health plan

A SMH is based on the premise that providers and payers working together can achieve more efficient, high-quality care for patients than either party working alone. Payers have essential resources for infrastructure support, preventive services delivery, marketing and engagement expertise, large databases for risk stratification and gap closure, and care management capacity to be a valuable partner. In the short term, philanthropy, grants, and crowd-sourcing options can be used to provide initial support for components of the SMH; however, these rarely are sustainable long-term options. Thus, the most critical collaboration necessary to considering a SMH is between payer(s) (insurance company or health plan) and the specialty provider.


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