A Data-Driven Effort to Tackle Indiana’s COPD Problem

Oct. 10, 2018
Although reduction in avoidable readmissions after COPD-related hospitalizations is a national objective, in one Indiana community it’s moved its way up to the very top of the healthcare priority list.

Although reduction in avoidable readmissions after chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)-related hospitalizations is a national objective, in one Indiana community it’s moved its way up to the very top of the healthcare priority list.

In Jackson County, Indiana, the COPD population is roughly two times the national average. And considering that COPD is the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., working to fix the problem has taken precedence at local hospitals—including Schneck Medical Center, a community hospital in Seymour. Says Susan Zabor, vice president of clinical services at the medical center, “We have a high obesity population and a high smoking population, so in Jackson County, COPD is very prevalent. When we looked at our 2014 data, we knew it was an issue and we knew that it was a high-volume diagnosis for us, ranking second in our [hospital] readmissions.”

Indeed, at the time, Schneck Medical Center had a raw readmissions rate of nearly 14 percent for the specific COPD patient population, and these re-hospitalizations were leading to substantial added readmissions costs—upwards of $300,000 per year, according to Zabor. “We needed to put a focused intervention in place,” she attests.

Susan Zabor

The fines for failure to meet the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS’) avoidable readmissions reduction criteria, as part of the government’s Hospital Readmission Reduction Program (HRRP), focus on six conditions: heart attack, congestive heart failure, pneumonia, COPD, elective hip and knee replacements, and for the first time starting in 2016—coronary artery bypass graft surgery. The current focus in the HRRP is on readmissions occurring after initial hospitalizations for these selected conditions, and hospitals with 30-day readmission rates that exceed the national average are penalized by a reduction in payments across all of their Medicare admissions.

As such, it’s clear that in healthcare’s future of value-based care, treating patients outside of an organization’s four walls will be critical to an organization’s success. What’s more, drilling down into the data and being able to specifically predict and target patients who are at high risk for readmissions has become a key point of emphasis for many hospitals.

At Schneck Medical Center, clinical IT leaders launched a data analytics initiative with IBM Watson Health, whereby they were able to analyze treatment patterns, costs, and outcomes data for their own hospital and compare those with peer group hospitals around the country. It was this analysis which showed that Schneck was experiencing much higher than average numbers of complications, readmissions, and patient deaths related to COPD.

Zabor notes that the hospital was “doing well on process measures and publicly-reported measures, but we weren’t doing so well on some bigger issues like complications, mortality and length-of-stay, and we leaned on CareDiscovery [a Watson Health solution] to give us actionable data that was as close to real time as possible to help us improve.”

Using this data, hospital leadership was able to pull together teams focused on closing those gaps. Schneck’s organizational efforts for COPD patients included developing a long-term care practice, which currently includes a physician medical director, a full-time physician, three nurse practitioners and two medical assistants, as well as the hospital’s respiratory care department. This team makes weekly respiratory care visits, incorporates sleep studies into its observations and conducts patient discharge planning. In addition, the hospital put in place new protocols that included the installation of a transition team to help with patient discharge, follow-ups with recently discharged patients, and annual facility education regarding COPD.

Indeed, the data available in the Watson Health’s CareDiscovery solution helped the hospital focus efforts to improve care for COPD patients, eventually resulting in an 80-percent reduction in its unplanned COPD readmission rate and hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings—representing a 99-percent decrease in costs related to readmissions.

“We started doing a better job of managing patients’ chronic illness in whatever setting they were in— be it long-term care, home care, or primary care. Before long, they didn’t need to come into the hospital,” Zabor says. To this end, the hospital also witnessed a 55-percent decrease in patients admitted with a COPD diagnosis from 2014 to 2017. Zabor notes that reducing primary admissions actually was an unplanned result of the organization’s efforts, but one they were happy with nonetheless.

As many hospitals and health systems remain in a position today in which they are straddling two payment worlds—fee-for-service and pay-for-performance—one might ponder if it’s truly in the organization’s best interest to keep patients away. But Zabor says that for Schneck Medical Center’s executive leadership, it was never a question. “For our patients and our community, keeping them out of the hospital is the best thing to do, whether you are making money or not,” she says.

“Zabor adds, “We [do have] one foot in value and one in volume, which is difficult, but we have a patient-first culture here. Yes, have a finance pillar, but it does not overpower our quality of care or customer experience pillars, which all support that patient-first culture.”

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