Is a Post-discharge Clinic in Your Hospital's Future?
Hard Data? Not So Fast
How many post-discharge clinics are in operation today is not known. Fundamental financial data, too, are limited, but some say it is unlikely a post-discharge clinic will cover operating expenses from billing revenues alone.
Thus, such clinics will require funding from the hospital, HM group, health system, or health plans, based on the benefits the clinic provides to discharged patients and the impact on 30-day readmissions (for more about the logistical challenges post-discharge clinics present, see "What Do PCPs Think?" p. 35).
Some also suggest that many of the post-discharge clinics now in operation are too new to have demonstrated financial impact or return on investment. "We have not yet been asked to show our financial viability," Dr. Doctoroff says. "I think the clinic leadership thinks we are fulfilling other goals for now, such as creating easier access for their patients after discharge."
Amy Boutwell, MD, MPP, a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital in Massachusetts and founder of Collaborative Healthcare Strategies, is among the post-discharge skeptics. She agrees with Dr. Williams that the post-discharge concept is more of a temporary fix to the long-term issues in primary care. "I think the idea is getting more play than actual activity out there right now," she says. "We need to find opportunities to manage transitions within our scope today and tomorrow while strategically looking at where we want to be in five years [as hospitals and health systems]."
Dr. Boutwell says she's experienced the frustration of trying to make follow-up appointments with physicians who don't have any open slots for hospitalized patients awaiting discharge. "We think of follow up as physician-led, but there are alternatives and physician extenders," she says. "It is well-documented that our healthcare system underuses home health care and other services that might be helpful. We forget how many other opportunities there are in our communities to get another clinician to touch the patient."
Hospitalists, as key players in the healthcare system, can speak out in support of strengthening primary-care networks and building more collaborative relationships with PCPs, according to Dr. Williams. "If you're going to set up an outpatient clinic, ideally, have it staffed by PCPs who can funnel the patients into primary-care networks. If that's not feasible, then hospitalists should proceed with caution, since this approach begins to take them out of their scope of practice," he says.
With 13 years of experience in urban hospital settings, Dr. Williams is familiar with the dangers unassigned patients present at discharge. "But I don't know that we've yet optimized the hospital discharge process at any hospital in the United States," he says.
That said, Dr. Williams knows his hospital in downtown Chicago is now working to establish a post-discharge clinic. It will be staffed by PCPs and will target patients who don't have a PCP, are on Medicaid, or lack insurance.
"Where it starts to make me uncomfortable," Dr. Williams says, "is what happens when you follow patients out into the outpatient setting?
It's hard to do just one visit and draw the line. Yes, you may prevent a readmission, but the patient is still left with chronic illness and the need for primary care." TH