Mary Manley was accustomed to her independence. Having lived for many years on her own in North Philadelphia, worked until age 74, and cared for her infant great-granddaughter in her early 80s, she was undaunted by a diagnosis of diabetes in late 2007. “I didn’t have to go to doctors too much,” she said. “I was perfectly healthy, doing anything I wanted to do—“until 2009, that is, when ‘the sickness’ came.”
“The sickness” was, in fact, many chronic conditions (among them hypertension, mild cognitive impairment, coronary artery disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and two life-threatening acute conditions. The latter conditions—pneumonia and pancolitis, an intestinal inflammation caused by Clostridium difficile, a “superbug” that is often resistant to treatment—required hospitalization.
Ms. Manley received vancomycin intravenously for the Clostridium difficile for two weeks as an inpatient. She was discharged on a Thursday afternoon with a prescription for oral vancomycin that her niece dropped off at a neighborhood pharmacy. But on Friday the pharmacy claimed not to have received the order and refused to dispense the drug.
While hospitalized, Ms. Manley had met a transitional care nurse, Ellen McPartland, MSN, APRN, BC, who made a home visit on Friday. When she heard about the potentially grave delay in antibiotic therapy, she called the pharmacy immediately, demanding to speak with a supervisor. The pharmacy dispensed enough medication to get Ms. Manley through the weekend at home until the full amount could be obtained on Monday—an outcome that prevented immediate rehospitalization and may have saved Ms. Manley’s life.
According to a recent study, 20 percent of hospitalized Medicare beneficiaries are readmitted within 30 days of discharge and 34 percent within 90 days, at an estimated cost in 2004 of “$17.4 billion of the $102.6 billion in hospital payments from Medicare” (Jencks et al., 2009). Among innovations aimed at reducing rehospitalization rates, the Transitional Care Model (TCM) relies on an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), like Ms. McPartland, who meets with the patient and family caregivers during a hospitalization to devise a plan for managing chronic illnesses (see www.transitionalcare.info).
But the model involves more than discharge planning and home care, said TCM developer Mary D. Naylor, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, a professor of gerontology and director of the NewCourtland Center for Transitions and Health at the University of Pennsylvania. The first step is for the APRN to help the patient and family set goals during hospitalization. The nurse identifies the reasons for the patient’s instability, designs a plan of care that addresses them and coordinates various care providers and services.
The APRN then visits the home within 48 hours of discharge and provides telephone and in-person support as often as needed for up to three months. Assessing and counseling patients and accompanying them to medical appointments are aimed at helping patients and caregivers to learn the early signs of an acute problem that might require immediate help and to better manage patients’ health care. Also essential is ensuring the presence of a primary care provider. “Patients might have six or seven specialists, but nobody who’s taking care of the big picture,” Dr. Naylor said.
In three randomized controlled trials of Medicare beneficiaries with multiple chronic illnesses, use of the TCM lengthened the period between hospital discharge and readmission or death and resulted in a reduction in the number of rehospitalizations (Naylor, 1994; Naylor et al., 1999, 2004). The average annual savings was $5,000 per patient.
Until now, transitional care has not been covered by Medicare and private insurers. But the Affordable Care Act sets aside $500 million to fund pilot projects on transitional care services for “high-risk” Medicare beneficiaries (such as those with multiple chronic conditions and hospital readmissions) at certain hospitals and community organizations over a 5-year period. The secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services is authorized to remove the pilot status of this program if it demonstrates cost savings.
Now age 85, Ms. Manley takes eight medications regularly, and with the help of Ms. McPartland and a new primary care team, is spending more time with family and attending church again. Said Ms. McPartland, “Of all the roles I have had in nursing, this brings it all together. To see them going from so sick to back home and stable—the Transitional Care Model speaks to what nurses really do.”