TGH offers new health program

By CLAY MCFERRIN,

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” or so goes the classic idiom.

Members of the medical community, as well as those who subsidize health care services, embrace that concept.

That is why the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services now offer qualifying individuals a proactive way to address their health care needs.

Jim Blackwood, administrator of Tallahatchie General Hospital, said TGH and Charleston Clinic are participants in the new Medicare initiative, dubbed chronic care management (CCM).

“If a Medicare beneficiary has two or more chronic conditions — most frequent examples would be diabetes and hypertension, but it could be others including high cholesterol or any number of things that qualify for this chronic disease status — then they are eligible to participate in a program where our wellness nurses reach out to them by phone or in person and do consulting with them to try to proactively improve their health,” Blackwood noted.

During the once-monthly CCM consultation, which must be for a minimum of 20 minutes to meet program requirements, a medical professional would discuss with the patient a variety of issues.

“During these consultations, it would be things like, ‘Are you getting exercise?’  ‘What does your diet look like?’  ‘Are you taking your medications?’  ‘Are you getting the right medications and are you taking them on time?’  ‘When is the last time you had a colonoscopy?’ ‘When is the last time you had a mammogram?’” noted Blackwood. “So, it’s all those types of things that are intended to be preventive health measures that make people healthier so that they avoid much more expensive treatments and hospitalizations down the road.”

Blackwood said the consultations have proved to be very meaningful to patients.

“The monthly calls will remind them to do all things to effectively manage whatever chronic disease it is that they are dealing with,” said Blackwood.  “If it’s diabetes or hypertension — those are the two big ones — there are things that you’ve got to do to address those conditions every day.  So it’s like having a coach, effectively, coaching you through the management of these disease states.”

The 20 minutes per month of consulting time is merely a baseline, he added.

“A lot of times, Renee Meeks, our RN wellness nurse who does a lot of the chronic care management, will get on the phone with somebody and it’ll be an hourlong call,” Blackwood said. “So there’s no real limit on it; you’ve just got to do a minimum of 20 minutes per month, and participants may call in at any time they need.”

There is a cost in the form of a copay, but the administrator said many patients are dual eligible and have both Medicare and Medicaid.

“Medicaid picks up the copay, which is around $60 per patient per month,” he said. “Some commercial insurance plans also do this.”

Blackwood said medical providers at Charleston Clinic have been offering the CCM program to existing patients for some time.

“If it looks like the program could be an additional tool to help manage their condition and also provide the doctor or nurse practitioner with valuable information for the next time the patient comes in, then they recommend it to them or ask them if they want to participate,” he noted.

Once enrolled, a nurse puts together a treatment plan for the patient and then the monthly consultations begin.

Blackwood said the long-term benefits of the program for its participants, as well as for their health care providers, could be enormous.

“Particularly here in Tallahatchie County, diabetes alone is just rampant,” he said.  “So, anything we can do, like preventing Type 2 diabetes from escalating to Type 1, we need to do that.”

On the subject of diabetes, Blackwood said the hospital offers two diabetes-specific programs that are being administered through the James C. Kennedy Wellness Center by Catherine Moring and Jennifer Taylor.

“One of these is a diabetes prevention program, so it’s before you get diabetes but you might have high sugar, prediabetes, and you try to head it off at the pass,” he noted.  “Then there’s another program for people who are already actively in the diabetic disease state.  That’s called Diabetes Self Management Education.  Those are classes that meet periodically.”

Blackwood said anyone having questions about CCM or the Wellness Center’s diabetes education programs may dial the hospital’s one-call number at 647-8000.

“They’ll make the referral and we’ll get them to the right place,” he noted.

Blackwood said the hospital’s recent purchase of Southern Discount Drugs from longtime pharmacist and owner Robert Salmon — the drug store at 109 W. Walnut St. in Charleston is now called TGH Discount Pharmacy — “dovetails nicely with some of the other population health things that we’re doing.”

“If we’ve got Renee calling the patient who’s enrolled in CCM and she notices that this person isn’t getting their medications on a timely basis, then having that addition, maybe it makes it easier for that patient to get his or her medications,” Blackwood noted.  “Or maybe we set the patient up on a cycle to where all their refills are done all at one time so they can pick up their medication once a month instead of having their prescriptions expire and having to fill them at different times throughout the month.”

Blackwood said one of the points of emphasis at the pharmacy will be “to consult our patients who are on medications to make sure they understand everything involved with taking the medication, taking it on time and taking it in the right dosage.  That’s going to give us an additional tool that we haven’t really had to this point.”