In its new report, "Dying in America: Improving Quality and Honoring Individual Preferences Near the End of Life," the Institute of Medicine recommends the development of measurable, actionable, and evidence-based quality standards for clinician-patient communication and advance care planning to reflect the evolving population and health system needs.
Aetna's Compassionate Care program, a case management approach for individuals in advanced stages of illness, breaks down barriers commonly encountered in this highly sensitive stage of the health continuum while positively impacting both healthcare utilization and spend. Here, Dr. Joseph Agostini, senior medical director, Aetna Medicare, shares some best practices from Aetna's Compassionate Care Program.
There are several best practices. First, there is training, which is integral to the success of the Aetna Compassionate Care program.
Second, there is the proper selection, mentoring and ongoing learning opportunities for nurse case managers. These include such things as ongoing online tutorials, in-person training, where everyone gets training in change management and motivational interviewing techniques, regular 'lunch and learns,' medical director sessions including case-based rounds of cases that are in progress right now and feedback sessions. We bring in external entities to provide specialized expertise as necessary so that nurses get continuing education throughout the process.
Another best practice for us is having Aetna case managers manage all types of members. We don’t have a specialized unit that just specializes in advanced illness care needs. We think all of the nurse case managers should have developed this critical skill of being able to manage those with advanced illness, but also be able to identify support and be advocates for patients in all phases of their lives.
We also use a variety of functional status and prognosis tools. Many of these rating scales are scores focused on functional status. That’s important to follow over time, and can be predictive of outcomes. In our program we don’t necessarily use all of these scales, but we always capture some basic functional status over time and it’s useful and necessary to view that longitudinally.
A real-life example captures the heart of what we do. A case manager writes:
'Wife stated member passed away with hospice. Much emotional support given to spouse, she talked about what a wonderful life they had together, their children, all of the people’s lives that he touched. They were married 49 years last Thursday and each year he would give her a piece of jewelry. On Tuesday when she walked into his room he had a gift and card lying on his chest, a beautiful ring that he had their daughters purchase. She was happy he gave it to her on Tuesday; on Thursday he was not alert. She stated through his business that he touched many people’s lives and they all somehow knew he was sick and he has received many flowers, meals, fruits, cakes. She stated her lawn had become overgrown and the landscaper came and cleaned up the entire property, planted over 50 mums, placed cornstalks and pumpkins all around. She said she is so grateful for the outpouring of love. Also stated that hospice is wonderful, as well as everyone at the doctor’s office and everyone here at Aetna. She tells all of her friends that when you are part of Aetna, you have a lifeline.”
And the case manager concludes, “Encouraged her to call with ongoing issues or concerns and closed to case management.”
You can really feel the depth of connection that develops between the Aetna member, or the family caregiver and the case manager. You can’t really make this happen; it occurs over time and I would suggest to everyone that advanced illness care coordination can’t be measured by numbers alone or on hospital admissions or the length of time in hospice. We need to develop quality measures that capture the degree of family, caregiver and patient support that a program like this engenders.
Dr. Joseph Agostini is the senior medical director for the Aetna Medicare team. He is responsible for medical management strategy, clinical initiatives, and provider collaboration oversight for Aetna Medicare members.