The Extraordinary Value of Chronic Care Management As Seen Through The Lens Of The Patient

The following is a guest blog post by Spencer Kubo MD, Chief Medical Officer at CareCognitics.

The concept of adding chronic care management (CCM) to primary care practices is appealing on many different levels, but implementation has been sporadic.  The dismal uptake is multifactorial and is largely based on the perception that the value (return) may not be worth the investment.  However, Wendi Capers, Practice Manager of Priority Health Group, a primary care practice in Las Vegas, Nevada, recently relayed to me three patient stories that are guaranteed to change your perspective.  This group was an early adopter of CCM and is using Cariatrix as their CCM provider.

Patient #1 is an 82-year-old male veteran who was becoming increasingly isolated, lonely and depressed after the death of his dog.  The patient did not have any family or friends.  He had no physical complaints that would have necessitated a call to his doctor and did not feel he had any reasons to request an appointment.  The Care Ally from Cariatrix noticed that the patient was not responding to the regular emails and texts that give reminders about upcoming preventative health measures. She called the patient and astutely picked up on the feelings of isolation. After their conversation, she found a program that could provide animal therapy for vets.  She also located a community center that held classes in Tai Chi, one of the patient’s favorite forms of exercise.  The patient is responding well to these interventions and has “turned around.”  Now the patient promptly responds to the emails/texts, and even calls the Care Ally every month just to check in, clear signs of greater engagement and well-being.

Patient #2 is a 62-year-old male with diabetes that was not well controlled, as evinced by a baseline A1C that was elevated to 11.9.  When asked about the suboptimal A1C result, the patient was taken aback, saying, “I can take care of myself.”  Again, this patient did not see the need to contact his doctor.  But the CCM team slowly won him over through multiple contacts.  The Care Ally then observed during medication reconciliation that there were extended periods between refills of his insulin and oral medications.  The patient at first did not acknowledge this gap, but then finally admitted that the co-pay had forced him to delay refills. He remarked, “I can eat and heat my home, or I can get my meds, but I can’t do both.”  The Care Ally was able to petition the manufacturers for hardship papers, and now there is no gap in prescription refills.  Most importantly, his A1C has been reduced to 7.9!

Patient #3 is an 83-year-old male who has a cognitive impairment.  After an annual wellness visit, the primary physician ordered home health care visits to help with the patient’s weakness and general limitations.  However, the patient became increasingly disoriented and refused to let the home health aide into the home, thinking she was a photographer.   As in the other cases, this patient was not responding to the regularly scheduled emails and texts that are standard components of CCM.  However, the Care Ally received an automated alert, read about his refusal to admit the home health aide in the EMR, and then called the patient directly.  The Care Ally immediately recognized the patient’s disorientation and called the police department to do a well check on the patient.  The police found the patient to be obviously confused and called an ambulance to take the patient to the hospital for an emergent evaluation.

You will notice some common themes in these patient stories.  The first is that the CCM program had established a digital two-way communication platform with the patient.  This is a game changer from the traditional paradigm of medical interaction, which is dependent upon the patient calling the office to report a problem.  None of these patients felt they had any reason to call the doctor’s office (in that they were unable to recognize that they were in need of any care). However, the lack of responses to email and texts served as an indicator to the Care Ally that something might be amiss. In the traditional paradigm, corrective actions are initiated only AFTER the patient contacts the doctor about a problem.  In the new CCM paradigm, there is outbound communication that can help detect problems even if the patient is not contacting the clinic.

Second, the CCM program could provide VIP services that truly made a difference in patient outcomes–these are simple yet extraordinarily effective.  One problem with the term “VIP Services” is that many think of limousines, suite upgrades and free meals.  But here we see that “VIP Services” can be low cost but directed interventions to resolve specific issues facing a patient.  Most clinical practices do not have the resources to contact patients who are not complaining, and most do not have the resources to respond to the cases above in the same proactive fashion that CCM allows.  A CCM program can truly provide that competitive edge and get medical practices paid for the effort!

Third, these examples point to the synergistic effects of technology and the human touch.  Technology is an answer because it can help us monitor patients for signals and provide additional communication channels.  But we need the human touch in many cases to really make the difference.  As a practicing cardiologist, I get excited about how much technology can help, but at the same time, I am humbled by how much technology still cannot do. It is the balance of technology and human touch that will be a game changer in healthcare.

Finally, it is important to assess the value of CCM in terms of revenue, improvement in quality scores and other hard metrics.  But there is a “softer” side to the value equation that makes CCM valuable and helpful to patient outcomes.  These stories from the “trenches” of CCM providers happen all the time–they form a compelling testament to the value of CCM!

About Spencer Kubo, MD
Spencer brings a diverse set of experiences and expertise to the chronic care management strategies of CareCognitics. Previously, he was Medical Director of the Heart Failure-Heart Transplantation Program of the University of Minnesota, where he authored over 250 original articles and abstracts. He has also been Chief Medical Officer or a consultant to numerous medical device companies developing breakthrough treatments to improve the lives of patients with cardiac diseases. He maintains a part time clinical practice and most recently was the Physician Lead of the Heart Failure Service Line for Allina Health. In that capacity, he leads a multidisciplinary group focused on improving outcomes of heart failure patients treated at any of the 12 hospitals and over 90 clinics in the Allina system.

Note: John Lynn, Founder of Healthcare Scene, is an advisor to CareCognitics.