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How Intermountain empowers families in clinical care to reduce readmissions

The voluntary Intermountain Partners in Healing program enables patients' family members to perform various tasks both in the hospital and at home.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

A voluntary program at Intermountain Healthcare that allows family members of hospitalized patients to participate in their care has been proven to both enhance healing and reduce readmission rates. 

Intermountain's Partners in Healing program enables family members to help with basic care for their loved ones, which in turn prepares the family for taking over care responsibilities when the patient goes home. The program also allows the patient and family member more control over when they perform the care activities rather than following a nurses schedule. And it improves communication between the family and the staff, according to new results published in the February issue of the medical journal CHEST.

[Also: The readmission rates horse race: Hospitals must harness data analytics to outpace competitors]

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The findings demonstrate a tactic other hospitals could employ as part of a strategy to address readmissions; currently the federal government imposes financial penalties on institutions that fail to meet certain quality benchmarks, with 30-day readmissions being one of the most visible metrics for determining reimbursement.

Partners in Healing is the first program in the field that shows drafting family members as clinical care partners during hospitalization may reduce those readmissions. In the program, researchers compared adult heart surgery patients at Intermountain Medical Center whose families participated in the program with those whose relatives did not.

[Also: Postoperative wound monitoring app shows potential to reduce readmissions]

Researchers looked at 30-day all-cause readmissions, 30-day all-cause mortality, length of stay, and the number of emergency room visits. The 30-day readmission rate was 65 percent lower for patients whose families participated in Partners in Healing, based on 200 matched pairs of patients. Researchers controlled the results for age, gender and illness severity. There was no significant difference for the other outcomes.

Feedback showed that 92 percent of the patients said the program enhanced the transition from hospital care to home care, and 94 percent said they'd highly recommend the program to other families.

Here's how it works: During a patient's initial encounter in the hospital, the bedside nurse introduces the program and families are asked if they want to participate.

Those who are interested are taught several basic skills appropriate to a specific patient, then given a badge that indicates to staff that they're part of the care team and have access to drinks, snacks, ice and blankets for their family member.

A checklist is taped to the patient's door and the participants write what they do, such as helping with breathing exercises, assisting with activity, giving help to reach the bathroom, measuring urine output, recording how much a patient eats and drinks, etc. The nurse then transfers the data into the computer record. The various tasks a family member can perform are determined by the patient's needs and the capacity of the family member.

The program is slated to expand to the other 21 Intermountain Healthcare hospitals and will eventually be available on all of the system's nursing units.

Twitter: @JELagasse
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