DALLAS – In the midst of the ever-increasing costs of patient care for chronic disease, one model for care of a specific, complex condition is the medical home, according to a presentation at the American Gastroenterological Association’s Partners in Value meeting.
The medical home concept came out of pediatrics and primary care, where patients’ health care needs could vary greatly over several years but benefited from coordinated care, Miguel Regueiro, MD, professor of medicine and chair of the department of gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition at the Cleveland Clinic, told attendees at the meeting.
The medical home is ideal for a disease such as inflammatory bowel disease because it brings together the different care providers essential for such a complex condition and allows for the kind of coordinated, holistic care that’s uncommon in America’s typically fragmented health care system.
The two key components of a specialist medical home are a population of patients whose principal care requires a specialist and a health plan partnership around a chronic disease. The major attributes of a medical home, he explained, are accessibility; comprehensive, coordinated care; compassionate, culturally sensitive, patient-and family-centered care; and team-based delivery.
After initially building an IBD medical home in Pittsburgh, Dr. Regueiro brought the concept to Cleveland Clinic and shared with attendees how he did it and the challenges and benefits it involved.
He advises starting with a small team and expanding as demands or needs dictate. He began with a GI specialist, a psychiatrist, a dietitian, a social worker, a nurse, and three in-house schedulers. The patient ratio was 500 patients per nurse and 1,000 patients per gastroenterologist, psychiatrist and dietitian.
Dr. Regueiro explained the patient flow through the medical home, starting with a preclinic referral and patient questionnaire. The actual visit moves from intake and triage to the actual exam to a comprehensive care plan involving all relevant providers, plus any necessary referrals to any outside services, such as surgery or pain management. The work continues, however, after the patient leaves the clinic, with follow-up calls and telemedicine follow-up, including psychosocial telemedicine.
The decision to include in-house schedulers is among the most important, though it may admittedly be one of the more difficult for those trying to build a medical home from the ground up.
“I think that central scheduling is the worst thing that’s ever happened to medicine,” Dr. Regueiro told attendees. It’s too depersonalized to serve patients well, he said. His center’s embedded schedulers begin the clinical experience from a patient’s first phone call. They ask patients their top three problems and the top three things they want from their visit.
“If we don’t ask our patients what they want, the focus becomes physician-centered instead of patient-centered,” Dr. Regueiro said, sharing anecdotes of patients who came in with problems, expectations, and requests that differed, sometimes dramatically, from what he anticipated. Many of these needs were psychosocial, and the medical home model is ideally suited to address them in tandem with physical medical care.
“I firmly believe that the secret sauce of all our medical homes is the psychosocial care of patients by understanding the interactions between biological and environmental factors in the mind-body illness interface,” he said.
The center also uses provider team huddles before meeting a patient at intake and then afterward for follow-up. Part of team communication involves identifying patients as “red,” “yellow,” or “green” based on the magnitude of their needs and care utilization.
“There are a lot of green-zone patients: They see you once a year and really don’t need the intensive care” his clinic can provide, he said. “We did as much as we could to keep the patient at home, in their community, at school, more than anything else,” Dr. Regueiro said. “It’s not just about their quality of life and disease but about the impact on their work-life balance.”
One way the clinic addressed those needs was by involving patient stakeholders to find out early on – as they were setting up the center – what the patient experience was and what needed to improve. As they learned about logistical issues that frustrated the patient experience, such as lost medical records, central scheduling, or inadequate parking, they could work to identify solutions – thereby also addressing patients’ psychosocial needs.
But Dr. Regueiro was upfront about the substantial investment and challenges involved in setting up an IBD medical home. He would not have been able to meet his relative-value unit targets in this model, so those were cut in half. When an audience member asked how the clinic successfully worked with a variety of commercial insurers given the billing challenges, Dr. Regueiro said he didn’t have a good answer, though several large insurers have approached him with interest in the model.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but the appetite seems to be there,” he said. “I do think the insurers are interested because of the cost [savings] part of this.”
Those cost savings showed up in the long-term outcomes. At the Pittsburgh center, total emergency department visits dropped by nearly half (47%) from the year before the medical home total care model was implemented to the year after, from 508 total ED visits among the patient population to 264 visits. Hospitalizations similarly declined by a third (36%), from 208 to 134.
Part of the reason for that decline, as Dr. Regueiro showed in a case study example, was halting the repetitive testing and interventions in the ED that did not actually address – or even find out – the patient’s needs, particularly when those needs were psychosocial. And many psychosocial needs could even be met outside the clinic: 35% of all behavioral visits were telemedicine.
Still, payment models remain a challenge for creating medical homes. Other challenges include preventing team burnout, which can also deter interest in this model in the first place, and the longitudinal coordination of care with the medical neighborhood.
Despite his caveats, Dr. Regueiro’s presentation made a strong impression on attendees.
Mark Tsuchiyose, MD, a gastroenterologist with inSite Digestive Health Care in Daly City, Calif., found the presentation “fantastic” and said using medical homes for chronic GI care is “unquestionably the right thing to do.” But the problem, again, is reimbursement and a payer model that works with a medical home, he said. Dr. Regueiro needed to reduce his relative-value unit targets and was able to get funding for the care team, including in-house schedulers, Dr. Tsuchiyose noted, and that’s simply not feasible for most providers in most areas right now.
Sanjay Sandhir, MD, of Dayton (Ohio) Gastroenterology, said he appreciated the discussion of patient engagement apps in the medical home and helping patients with anxiety, depression, stress, and other psychosocial needs. While acknowledging the payer hurdles to such a model, he expressed optimism.
“If we go to the payers, and the payers are willing to understand and can get their head around and accept [this model], and we can give good data, it’s possible,” Dr. Sandhir said. “It’s worked in other cities, but it has to be a paradigm shift in the way people think.”
John Garrett, MD, a gastroenterologist with Mission Health and Asheville (N.C.) Gastroenterology, said he found the talk – and the clinic itself – “truly amazing.”
“It truly requires a multidisciplinary approach to identify the problems your IBD patients have and manage them most effectively,” he said. But the model is also “incredibly labor-intensive,” he added.
“I think few of us could mobilize a team as large, effective, and well-funded as his, but I think we can all take pieces of that and do it on a much more economical level, and still get good results,” he said, pointing specifically to incorporating depression screenings and other psychosocial elements into care. “I think most important would be to identify whether significant psychosocial issues are present and be ready to treat those.”
Dr. Regueiro has consulted for Abbvie, Allergan, Amgen, Celgene, Janssen, Pfizer, Takeda, and UCB, and has received research grants from Abbvie, Janssen, and Takeda. Dr. Tsuchiyose, Dr. Sandhir, and Dr. Garrett had no disclosures.
Gastroenterology has released a special collection of IBD articles, which gathers the best IBD research published over the past 2 years. View it at https://www.gastrojournal.org/content/inflammatory_bowel_disease.