Care coordination provides a single contact for all of a patient’s needs. This contact works with nursing hospitals, physical therapists and other health professionals, as well as patients and their families. In most cases, these people are provided by government agencies or private insurance companies. The goal for these organizations is usually to cut costs by streamlining medical care.
Despite these general traits, there is no single definition of “care coordination.” In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has recorded over 40 specific definitions. Still, it is possible to make general statements about this aspect of health care and what it entails.
What Care Coordinators Do
Set Up Appointments
One of the duties of the care coordinator is to find out which doctors a patient needs to visit and set up the appropriate appointments. This both helps prevent unnecessary visits and ensure that the proper visits do take place. Avoiding duplicate visits saves on costs, while being vigilant about necessary ones improves patient outcomes.
It can be hard for a patient or their family to keep track of the tsunami of information that can come in when a chronic illness is being handled. The care coordinator collects info from doctors, therapists and other health care providers and presents it in a clear and concise way. This allows patients, and their families to understand the information. It also gives them a single person to call if they have questions.
Care coordinators also send information in the other direction. A change in a patient’s status may require that multiple health care providers be informed. By using a coordinator, a patient or family member only needs to tell one person. The coordinator then determines who else needs to know and makes sure they are informed.
When is it a Good Idea to Use Care Coordination?
The best time to use care coordination is when there is a severe or chronic illness to deal with. These illnesses often involve several health care professionals including doctors, nurses, various therapists, pharmacists and more. This complexity can be hard to handle even for someone in great health. Trying to keep track of it all while sick may be next to impossible.
Sometimes, a care coordinator is overkill. This is the case for simple or short illnesses. If there will only be one or two doctors involved, the chances are good that a coordinator will be completely unnecessary.
Are There Any Guidelines for Care Coordination?
The National Quality Forum (NQF), a multi-stakeholder organization dedicated to improving the quality of health care has released a set of “best practices” guidelines for care coordination at multiple levels. These guidelines cover everything from primary care to the communication of biopsy results.
Specific health care institutions, groups of health care professionals and others also have their own guidelines. While they may or may not match the NQF’s version, it is safe to say that the intent will always be to improve patient outcomes and keep unnecessary costs down.