Southeastern to train health coaches to help reduce hospital readmissions


Tuesday, April 15, 2014
by: Rene Abadie

HAMMOND – Southeastern Louisiana University's College of Nursing and Health Sciences is initiating a program with North Oaks Medical Center intended to reduce the number of patient readmissions to the Hammond hospital.

Funded by a three-year $351,989 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Louisiana Delta Health Coach Program will train university students and health care professionals to work as health coaches with patients discharged from the hospital. Targeted patients will include those with diagnoses of heart attack, chronic obstructive lung disease, congestive heart failure and pneumonia.

"These are patients who are particularly prone to hospital readmissions, which can be extremely expensive for private insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid," said Ann Carruth, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences and principal investigator for the grant. "We expect this program to reduce readmissions among this patient population by at least 10 percent."

Health coaches are individuals trained to provide follow-up consultation with patients after they are discharged. The coaches check to make sure these patients are following their physicians' instructions for home care, including taking medications, following a prescribed diet, using appropriate therapies and scheduling follow-up visits with their physicians.

Project coordinator Ralph Wood, a professor of health education and promotion, said under the grant, Southeastern will provide training for health coaches, drawing from the pool of students in the university's Department of Kinesiology and Health Studies and Department of Health and Human Sciences. After training, the students will participate in an internship at North Oaks.  The first students to participate in the internship opportunities will students pursuing a bachelor of science degree in Health Education and Promotion.

"This internship opportunity is just another example of Southeastern setting the curve of innovative partnerships and training opportunities for our students," Wood said. "Students will learn the process of health coaching, as well as receive substantial training in motivational interviewing. To my knowledge, we are the only university in Louisiana providing this level of training to undergraduate students".

"This is a great opportunity for our students who are interested in entering the health care field to gain some first-hand experience," Carruth said. "The training they receive as health coaches will be a great preparation for the workplace while helping to fill an important need in health care."

She said the program also will utilize registered nurses and additional health care professionals from North Oaks Health System and other area medical facilities to educate and support health coaches.

"Patient follow-up after discharge from the hospital with his or her primary care physician is critical," explained North Oaks Senior Vice President of Patient Services Shelly Welch. "Through this program, coaches and health care professionals will work together with the patient and his or her family to make sure the follow-up appointment happens. We also will be able to provide additional education, answer questions and link the patient to community resources that may help promote the healing process."

"Studies show that a significant number of patients need this kind of 'nudge' to keep them on track with their self-care," said Carruth. "Not following prescribed at-home care is one of the leading causes of hospital readmissions."

She said Medicare keeps careful track of patient readmissions and has started penalizing hospitals financially when readmission rates start to increase. Nationwide, nearly 20 percent of hospitalized Medicare patients are readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of their discharge, incurring additional testing and procedures. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid estimate readmissions cost an estimated $17 billion annually.

The grant includes the Livingston Economic Development Council and the Tangipahoa Economic Development Foundation as members of the consortium to address the readmission issue. The economic development agencies will help to demonstrate that the health coaching program could save millions in lost revenue, as well as create future employment positions in the field of health coaching.


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