‘Genius’ honored for preventing repeat hospitalizations

By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon

The MacArthur Foundation has honored a Colorado doctor with a $500,000 genius grant for his work to help chronically ill older adults stay well.

University of Colorado School of Medicine geriatrician, Dr. Eric Coleman, has won the prestigious MacArthur fellowshipfor creating the concept of low cost transition coaches. The coaches provide relatively simple support to chronically ill older adults and their caregivers for a month after hospitals release the patient. His program is called Care Transitions Intervention.

The issue is critically important because hospital readmissions are costing taxpayers an estimated $17.5 billion dollars a year. Studies have found that nearly one in five Medicare patients returns to the hospital within a month of discharge. In the past, hospitals have had no incentive to reduce those repeat visits. Starting this week, the federal government will fine hospitals that repeatedly readmit patients.

Ironically, Coleman has had trouble in the past attracting federal funding for his work.

Pursuing a relatively high-risk research portfolio that challenges existing paradigms has translated into being ahead of the federal funding opportunities, he said. This has required identifying philanthropic funding partners that have been willing to take this risk together.

Coleman said hes thrilled with the award and has not yet decided how to spend the money, which comes with no strings attached.

I am deeply honored and humbled to receive this recognition, said Coleman, a CU professor who practices at University of Colorado Hospital.

The MacArthur Foundation announced 23 grant winners. The grants support people who show exceptional originality and creativity. The awards have become known as genius grants, although the foundation does not call them that. This years crop included writers, an economist and a maker of bows for stringed instruments.

Colemans innovation is deceptively simple. The coaches do a home visit and make three phone calls to patients and caregivers. Studies have found that patients were significantly less likely to be readmitted to the hospital and that the benefits lasted at least five months after the one-month program ended. Colemans conservative estimates have found that a typical group of coaches helping 350 chronically ill adults could save at least $300,000.

Patients also reported being more satisfied with their recovery and achieving their personal post-hospitalization goals. The model taps patients and family caregivers and helps them become more comfortable and competent in handling their own care.

In essence, the model involves making an investment in helping patients and family caregivers become more comfortable and competent in participating in their care during care transitions. So far, more than 750 health care organizations n 40 states have adopted the Care Transitions Intervention.

A study in Colorado conducted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found that the program cut hospital readmission within 60 days of release by 50 percent.

Patients report that the home visit made them feel like someone cared about them. Many were confused about medication and their coaches helped them organize and better understand their prescriptions.

Said one participant:

It made me feel like someone cared and was paying attention to me, that people are interested in you, that theres somebody who has the ability and is trained and interested in your welfare.