03/20/2013 03:50 pm ET Updated May 20, 2013

Innovations In Advanced Illness Care

Innovations in Advanced Illness Care
You may have heard the word "hospice" in the news a lot lately. This isn't a surprise as we watch America's frail elderly population surge to unprecedented levels. Naturally, our country is talking about advanced illness care more audibly than ever before.

This is music to my ears as I have been a passionate advocate for hospice for over 20 years. As CEO of Capital Caring, one of our nation's leading nonprofit hospices, I think now is the time to wake up the hospice industry by providing the most cutting-edge medical care and services available so that all Americans can experience the best of the rest of their lives.

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking about care delivery innovations used by several high-performing hospice organizations at the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care (C-TAC) National Summit. These hospices are part of The Innovations Group -- a collaborative of hospices of which I'm a founding member. They are focused on delivering the finest, most cutting-edge care possible.

In leading this Group, I share C-TAC's vision and mission for better, more comprehensive and more supportive care for Americans with advanced illness. As providers, it is our duty to assert that the skills, expertise and experience of hospice professionals, and the interdisciplinary coordinated care model of hospice when practiced correctly, provide the foundational elements necessary to build out excellent, coordinated care. We need to stay fresh and ahead of the curve to best serve our patients. Period.

So, what do I mean by "innovations" in hospice care? Here are several concepts I'd like to see hospice providers adopt from coast-to-coast:

  • Leverage Health Care Technology: TeleCaring - At Capital Caring, we make sure that patients and their caregivers receive an extra layer of support by leveraging technology. Each day, our patients and families receive two phone calls from dedicated TeleCaring nurses, who check in and make sure any issues or problems are quickly addressed. Exciting future plans include expanding to other state-of-the-art healthcare technologies. Eventually, a patient could have a device at the bedside, the clinical staff will begin their visit with a tablet, a caregiver may have their laptop connected from a far-away state or country, and a doctor will drop in on a video session to observe and answer questions.
  • Go to Places They Trust: In Good Faith - We know that only about 40% of those eligible for hospice are accessing it. We need to do better. This starts by raising awareness about these services in places where people naturally convene and reflect on such issues. This means going to places that many people trust, such as churches, synagogues, mosques and other faith-based. Communities are thirsty for educational information of this sort and places of worship are a good place to discuss these issues. At Capital Caring, we make a point to reach out to these groups and regularly serve them by offering educational programs, caregiver support and robust partnerships.
  • Quality is our Number One Business Strategy: At Capital Caring, one of our core values is that we are all "learners" and "teachers" and that quality drives everything we do, regardless of our role here. We each hold ourselves accountable by measuring quality through a series of metrics that serve as a dashboard of sorts -- a way to clearly determine what we were doing well, and where we need to improve. These benchmarks have helped us reach excellence in many areas. One example is our pain metric, which we examine to see how effective we are in pain relief. Specifically, we analyze how well we're doing in reducing our patients' pain in less than 48 hours on a scale of one to 10. I'm proud to say that today, on average, 97 percent of our patients rate their pain as mild or better. When patients are more comfortable, trips to the emergency room are often reduced, as are urgent visits from registered nurses. Beyond the patient and the family, the entire system benefits from making quality the focus, and measuring how well we're doing in the process.

These are just a few of many concepts worth embracing. I believe the possibilities are endless. Like any industry, we have to be forward-thinking if we want to give Americans the excellent advanced illness care experience they deserve--and caregivers the relief they are seeking.

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