Rush University Medical Center's new study reports that elderly patients suffering from chronic illnesses receiving virtual care from a team of medical experts linked together via phone, fax, and e-mail make fewer emergency room visits. The authors of the study examined the Rush University pilot project called, “Virtual Integrated Practice (VIP)” that links physician practices to teams of pharmacists, social workers, and dieticians. The VIP approach is designed to develop effective team building and ongoing collaboration with healthcare providers who do not work together in the same practice, in the same location, or in the same organization.
The researchers followed the higher risk diabetic patients over the course of two years and found that not only did patients in the VIP program made fewer trips to the ER but patients receiving VIP care also reported having a better understanding of how to use their medications. In addition, physicians who were part of the virtual teams reported that they were better informed on how their patients were doing between visits. The VIP study shows the feasibility of interdisciplinary virtual teams as a practical solution to many of the challenges in primary care geriatric care practices.
Coordinated team care is a key element for the “Medical Home” patient-centered care approach. While older adults with multiple chronic illnesses can benefit from coordinated care provided by physicians as well as nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare providers, 60% of primary care physician practices in the U.S. are small and unlikely to have the resources to create and maintain interdisciplinary care teams. However, it has been proven that using the VIP model can easily be adopted by solo and small group practices that care for frail elders.
The goals of the VIP program are to:
- Implement the program over an 18 month period in four practice sites focusing on patients with diabetes type II, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and urinary incontinence
- Evaluate the costs involved and examine patient and provider perception
- Promote practitioner usage of VIP locally and nationally and distribute the findings of the VIP intervention through a variety of collaborative activities