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A Care Management Strategy

Creating a Care Management (CM) program entails several requirements. But, first, it must define the goals. The goals, to my mind, are:

  1. Ensuring coordination of care and continuity
  2. Using standards and evidence-based medicine, which means, when in doubt go to the source for recommendations and policies, and using standard LCDs and NCDs and following ODAG rules and relevant Appeals and Grievances policies: This would mean creating conditions for appropriate care under all circumstances and doing the right thing by the patients and their families along with the providers
  3. Optimization of resources, cost-effectiveness, eliminating duplication and wastage
  4. Population health management and having the ability to scale for the whole panel of patients
  5. Recording interactions, documenting and auditing and analyzing as needed
  6. Deeper, more intense care, customized, individualized and personalized, modified for special needs and patient-centered, including post discharge monitoring and follow up, med reconciliations, adherence to treatment and tracking adverse events
  7. Reviewing the usage of resources by providers
  8. Deepening the engagement with patients and families, mentoring and educating them to self-manage, improving their health by self-empowerment and creating more avenues of communication
  9. Involving the whole team of case managers, social workers, nurses and providers along with care coordinators and referrals managers as one unit, a team-based model
  10. Improving quality with HEDIS, CAHPS, and HOS, which means improving outcomes, reducing complications and re-admits, ensuring open dialogs and feedback along with strong outreach.
  11. Compliance, which would begin with correct diagnosis and documentation leading to appropriate risk stratification
  12. Predictive, proactive, preventive and prophylactic care that ensures consumer protection and safety and prevents the withholding of care

Creating a team is the next step. A strong CM program needs to have experienced and dynamic CM leadership including doctors, medical officers, case managers, nurses, care coordinators, referral managers and medical assistants who are constantly educated and trained in the latest developments in health care policy.

The location of CM services should preferably cover as many points of service as possible, including hospitals (where embedded case managers along with hospitalists bring optimum results), skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) where again, embedded case managers along with SNFists bring optimum results, home and assisted living facilities (where home visits by providers for high risk patients might be of great value along with follow up by case managers and care coordinators along with home health care over the phone or by home visits might be very effective) and office settings (where the providers and the whole office team needs to be on board). CM necessitates integration of various aspects of health care including regulatory, compliance, operational, clinical, technical and financial. All of these need to be considered and brought together for the best results.

Constant monitoring of the program is essential. Looking at reports from the hospital, especially opportunity days, GMLOS, hours in observation, re-admits, ER visits, mortality and morbidity, core measures, patient engagement scores and outcomes are critical. Similarly, from SNFs, re-admits, falls, decubitus ulcers, UTIs, patient satisfaction and length of stay are of great value.
Medicare generally tracks and reports length of stay as a “Geometric Mean Length of Stay” or GMLOS. Most hospitals measure their own length of stay as an “Average Length of Stay” or ALOS. So why does Medicare use the GMLOS? The advantage of the GMLOS is that it will minimize the impact of outliers. If the number of patients is relatively low, one patient with an uncharacteristically long or short LOS will significantly increase or decrease the ALOS respectively, but the effect on the GMLOS will be less. Medicare has to determine “appropriate” LOS based on a large amount of data that includes outliers on both extremes. The goal is to get to a number that can be utilized in the DRG payment formula. GMLOS is the best method for that purpose. Hospitals generally track ALOS and compare that to the GMLOS.

For managed and accountable care, the cost of care compared to the premium, utilization of generic drugs, patients seen post-discharge from hospitals and SNFs within seven days, multiple ER visits, time taken for a referral to be done, high risk and catastrophic cases should be regularly reviewed. Appeals and grievances need to be followed along with complaints about offices, providers and staff, by the formulation of a case tracking mechanism.

careCare management needs to be seen as one leg of a three-footed stool, the other two legs being compliance and quality. This is the holy triangle of sorts in managed care. The other important triangle is comprised of billing/coding, data and analytics. Billing and coding gives the critical information about patient diagnoses and risk stratifications, special needs and specific disease management. Data is the new oil, they say, in the new world of information technology but for those of us in health care, it is our life blood. Without strong data organization and analytics, no CM program will achieve its fullest potential.

Operations: Work flows might include reviewing reports from health plans or billing data to identify patients at high risk or with specific conditions. They may also include the referrals from providers or case managers from offices, hospitals or SNFs in specific cases. Referrals that do not meet CMS criteria should be reviewed by case reviewers with expertise in LCDs and NCDs and experience in case management. Case managers should track the sicker patients. Referrals that do not meet LCDs or NCDs need to be referred to health plans for medical determination in accordance with ODAG policies. Care coordinators should work in conjunction with case managers and providers to create another line of communication with patients. Patient advocates who may be case managers or relationship managers also are part of the team.

Hospital case managers may work with physician advisers and hospitalists to review cases to ensure proper utilization of resources as needed. Any patient who does not meet criteria for a further stay in the hospital or SNF needs to be given proper notice and may not be discharged without due process.

Transitional care management is another emerging area that needs to be assessed along with the use of IoT (Internet of Things) and apps at home. Executive care management may be comprised of specialist providers who only see patients with certain diseases or for their initial office visits. Devices can be provided to patients for better self-management including blood sugar and blood pressure monitoring devices, weighing scales and possible avenues of tele-medicine may be explored.

The key is for the program, as it is developed, to constantly grow, adapt, learn and re-learn, challenge itself and align all the incentives so that true team effort can be maintained. The right leadership is the sine qua non to establish the right culture and direction of the program.

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