Most healthcare providers struggle to collaborate with even the most essential of their colleagues. Many of us are stuck in the "dark ages" of phone tag or hoping that the EMR/EHR manages to coordinate different provider visits and perspectives. (I'll give you a hint: it doesn't.)
While iClickCare is commonly used in hospital settings, private practices, or home healthcare, you might be surprised to know that iClickCare actually originated in elementary schools, with a school-based healthcare program. Our Founder is a pediatrician and she created the tool to collaborate with nurse practitioners at local low-income elementary schools. The goal was to use telemedicine to collaborate, coordinate care, and keep young students in class by resolving health problems more efficiently.
So when I heard about a recent program with similar goals, I was glad to know it is succeeding -- even as there are key aspects of it that fall short.
In 2012, Children's Hospital Colorado started a program with school and corporate collaborators -- it works with school nurses to train students to manage their asthma more effectively.
The question asked in the article, "Are schools part of the healthcare system?” is an important one -- and I would answer with a resounding Yes. As Dr. Deterding said, “Even though schools may not want to be a medical healthcare delivery system, they are. ”In fact, I believe that “the healthcare system” includes far more collaborators than one would think. It’s not just doctors, nurses, and hospitals. Our collaborators in medicine include social workers, teachers, parents, kids, school nurses, home health aides… the list goes on and on and is unique for each patient.
According to Fierce Healthcare’s summary, participants in the Colorado program "experienced a 22% drop in school absenteeism and an 80% decline in hospitalizations and urgent care visits among pediatric asthma patients.”
While this is an exciting program, with strong results, I do think that we can do even better. Ultimately, this program doesn't create a foundation to improve the way we care for young patients overall -- it simply resolves one aspect of a complex care scenario. While results were excellent, I worry that the intervention isn't holistic enough or sustainable because it's not involving the full picture of these young patients' care. That said, I think there are several crucial learnings from this project that we can all take away.
3 Key Care Coordination Learnings from a School-Based Health Program:
- The people closest (geographically or emotionally) to our patients may have the strongest ability to support them.
In this case, the people consistently close to these young patients are school nurses. School nurses are close in terms of physical access, are embedded in the students' community and cultural context, and likely know the students personally. Similarly, it's crucial to recognize the similar closeness of wound care nurses, home health aides, teachers, social workers, and others. Medicine can become very hierarchical, in which specialists are hyper-valued. But the reality is that for the best care to happen, we need to collaborate with the people closest to our patients as well.
- Working across the continuum of care can be a powerful way of achieving new results.
The new world of healthcare requires that we expand our understanding of who is part of the care team. But I believe that it's not enough to simply engage school nurses to execute a program. We must truly collaborate across the continuum of care. We have seen over and over again that this approach yields a strong ROI and best-in-class patient care.
- Tools used to bridge different aspects of the healthcare system must be robust and flexible.
What does that mean specifically? It means that our tools must do more than support us in treating a single disease, as with this asthma program. Rather, we need tools like telemedicine-based healthcare collaboration that help manage asthma today, a cancer scare tomorrow, and a complex broken leg next year. Healthcare is too complex, and our patients are too valuable, to settle for single-use tools.
With the inspiration of both the strengths and shortcomings of this program, I encourage you to look more broadly in your practice today. More broadly in terms of who you see as part of the care team... and more broadly in terms of what you expect from the tools you use in your practice of medicine. Our patients deserve more and better care coordination and healthcare collaboration -- and we deserve more and better satisfaction from the work we do.
Learn more about hybrid store-and-forward telemedicine and how it can help you do care coordination across the continuum of care: