Though February is traditionally considered the month of sweethearts, it also holds important significance for the healthcare community, as February is American Heart Month! Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 adults in the United States suffer from high blood cholesterol levels, and the American Heart Association predicts that by 2035, nearly half of the Americans will have at least one form of cardiovascular disease. Therefore, American Hearth Month is here to remind us what can be done at home, at work, and in our community to encourage heart healthy behaviors. And who is especially integral in preventing, treating, and managing heart disease? Healthcare workers!
Due to the ever-increasing budget cuts and a shift towards a value-based healthcare system, hospitals and health systems throughout the country are under tremendous pressure to offer high-quality care to patients while keeping costs low. One of the major contributing factors to healthcare spending is readmissions among patients with chronic diseases like chronic coronary artery disease or heart failure.
While many hospitals are successful in avoiding readmissions by following up with patients and helping them manage and maintain their health outside the hospital, there are always some patients who slip through the cracks, especially those coming from an underserved population or rural area. Though these patients are at high risk of readmission, many organizations are thinking outside the box to find ways to bring care to them instead of requiring them to travel back to the hospital.
Extending Care Through Community Paramedicine
In order to keep costs in check without compromising quality, organizations are developing innovative models of care to manage readmission rates among high-risk populations. Community paramedicine is one model in which paramedics and emergency medical technicians assume extended roles and assist underserved populations with public health, primary and preventive healthcare, and disease management. In particular, this model of care has been shown to have the potential to improve health outcomes of heart disease patients. For example, some health systems have started to use paramedics to provide post-discharge follow-up care, conduct patient education and other health-promoting programs, and connect patients to local services that can help with a variety of social and medical needs.
The utility of this model of care is evident from a number of articles featuring successful community paramedicine programs across the nation. For example, one of the programs operating in Indiana was developed with an aim of assisting patients with heart ailments. The program offered four services: blood pressure screening, CPR training, home safety surveys, and a hospital discharge program, which reduced readmissions among congestive heart failure patients by 15% during its first year of operation.
Another example of a successful paramedicine program comes from Via Christi Health, one of the largest providers of healthcare services in Kansas. The organization developed a community paramedicine program to assist heart failure patients in their post-discharge recovery process. Under the program, a community paramedic—along with a heart failure disease management team—visits patients at their home within 72 hours of discharge. The team ensures that patients understand their discharge instructions and educates them on lifestyle modifications, such as salt restriction and weight monitoring, enabling them to effectively self-manage their disease. Of the 35 patients enrolled in this particular program, only one was readmitted to the hospital within 60 days of discharge.
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