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Addressing the Challenges and Complexity of Higher Acuity in LTAC

By Mike Hodge, Director Business Development, Alternate Care Solutions, Dräger

In an effort to reduce costs, healthcare organizations are transitioning care models from the high-cost hospital setting and into non-acute facilities. At the same time, the senior population (age 65 and older) is rapidly growing, accounting for 17 percent of the total population in 2020, and projected to grow to 21 percent of the population in 2030.[1] As a result, administrators and other decision makers in long-term acute care (LTAC) facilities are faced with the challenges and complexities of caring for older and sicker patients, often transferred to them from the intensive care unit (ICU). 

Compounding these issues is the COVID-19 pandemic. As hospitals reach their capacity for treating critically ill infected patients, many are turning to LTAC facilities to meet this need. As patients recover from the virus, physicians and researchers are noting that some patients suffer lingering effects, including decreased lung function that might not be reversible, and damage to the heart, kidneys, gut or liver.[2] Therefore, the role of LTACs in the care of COVID-19 patients is likely to grow in the months ahead. 

Faced with caring for higher volume patients with comorbidities, LTACs must redesign their current workspaces and workflows to meet this demand. To ensure success, they must invest in new spaces, equipment and supplies to enhance care for sicker patients, reduce risks and protect patient safety. Below are four key areas that LTAC administrators should consider when addressing the challenges and complexity of higher acuity patients in their facilities.

1. Medical equipment and supplies: LTACs must have in place quality critical care equipment to optimize care and reduce ICU transfers back to acute care. This includes ventilators, patient monitors and medical supply units, along with validated accessories and consumables. ICU-quality ventilation can bridge the transition from the ICU with proven lung-protective tools and weaning support methodologies. To lower cross-contamination and avoid reprocessing costs, completely disposable components should be utilized.

2. Workspace and workflow design: With providers caring for an increased number of higher acuity patients, LTACs must assess their current workspaces to determine how they can improve workflow efficiency while maintaining patient safety. Investing in modern supply units, which feature integrated media terminals to maximize safety, ease of cleaning and hygiene, is one way to enhance existing spaces.

3. Electronic record keeping: Moreover, as care becomes increasingly complex, comprehensive patient medical records are essential. Having devices that can interface and provide data to electronic medical records (EMR) eases the burden of documentation and reduces the risk of transcription errors.

4. Service and support: With higher volumes of patients requiring ventilation and continuous monitoring, keeping existing equipment assets up and running is critical. Look for a medical equipment supplier who offers 24x7 live technical support and comprehensive service plans so help is there when you need it. 

While the transition of patients from the hospital setting to LTAC environments can help the healthcare industry in its goal to deliver high quality care at a lower cost, it will only work if the LTAC facilities have in place what they need to care for patients effectively and safely. If care is inadequate then the health system risks complications, bounce backs to the ICU and longer recovery times, which only adds to the cost burden. On the other hand, a LTAC facility designed for higher acuity patients can successfully care for them with the same quality as the hospital environment. LTACs that take the necessary steps to prepare for the influx of patients that is likely to grow in the years ahead will be positioned to meet their needs today and well into the future. 

For more information on how Dräger can help you design your ideal care space, please click here.

[1] 2020 TOP TRENDS IN AGING SERVICES: PREPARING FOR HISTORIC CHANGES, Health Dimensions Group, November 2019 https://healthdimensionsgroup.com/2020-trends/
[2] COVID-19 shows signs of long-term harm in some recovered patients, The Hill, May 31, 2020 https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/500199-covid-19-shows-signs-of-long-term-harm-in-some-recovered-patients

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