Months ago, the caffeine-addled Disease Management Care Blog reviewed with the spouse how to pre-set the kitchen coffee brewer for a pot of fresh coffee for the next morning. After listening politely to its earnest instructions, the DMCB spouse rarely set up the brewer.
Which is why the DMCB wasn't surprised by an Iowa Chronic Care Consortium (ICCC) study of how its newly minted medical home coach trainees were being deployed in the real world. The ICCC is a not-for profit organization that was founded in 2002 and offers a training program that prepares health professionals to be members of a medical home team.
The Consortium surveyed 318 graduates from their program. Of that number, there were 164 responses, yielding a 54% response rate. 83% of the respondents were nurses, while the remainder were medical or office assistants, diabetes educators, dietitians, social workers, physicians, pharmacists or administrators.
The good news is that care-management caffeine was available. The majority of respondents reported that they were using their skills to coach patients for self management, care coordination, planning visits and supporting registry use. The majority also found their work professionally rewarding.
The bad news is that these professionals were not being supported for maximum effect:
55% were still "building support for the position."
48% reported that "office work" was given a "higher priority," often due to physician and administrator resistance.
73% reported that their coaching duties were part time and was in addition to their more traditional roles.
Only 8% were involved in office "change management."
Only 11% enjoyed a pay differential that rewarded their coaching skills.
The Consortium's paper concludes - paralleling the DMCB's coffee-making travails - that a good idea accompanied by well-meaning training is not enough to overcome established clinic routines, business roles and local culture. The authors recommend that provider payments "change," coaching functions be "operationalized," training programs be "advanced," outcomes be "demonstrated" and that roles be "clarified."
While the DMCB ponders coffee change, operations, advances, demonstrations and clarifications, the DMCB has a far more more fundamental concern for the medical home:
With friends like this, the fledgling medical home movement doesn't need any enemies.
If the clinics that took the time and the money to train these individuals are unable to leverage their skills, disappointing outcomes could end up snatching usual care from the jaws of primary care clinic transformation.
The DMCB has three recommendations:
History Repeats: Years ago, established "disease management" companies had to go on record and oppose start-ups that were offering "faux" telephonic patient counseling programs. The medical home and population health management community, including the PCPCC, likewise can't afford to have clinics going to market with diluted medical home programs that deliver empty process instead of hard outcomes. All health care is local, and much of the buy-in for the medical home will ultimately be won or lost at that level. Speak up!
Buyer Beware: Payers and insurers need to be wise to the possibility that having a trained health coach on staff with credentials is not the same as having a health coach on line with the patients. On site credentialing may be in necessary that includes review of policies, job descriptions, pay scales and staff interviews.
Build or buy: Primary care clinics need to know that when they buy patient counseling services from a population health management vendor, you get full time on a plug and play basis. That may be a better option for a clinic that is not prepared to both train and fully use an on-site health coach.