“Creating an effective process that benefits patients, is sustainable long term and doesn’t increase costs is one of the most challenging parts of any new procedure, both in health care and beyond,” says Matt Oetgen, M.D., chief of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine at Children’s National.
Dr. Oetgen’s team accomplished this feat when building the Children’s National Spinal Fusion Surgical Home. The team used LEAN process mapping at the outset to engage a broad group of care providers who established a collaborative environment that empowered and engaged everyone to take ownership over a new care pathway for every patient who undergoes posterior spinal fusion surgery at the hospital.
This unique model designed using proven business process development tools has allowed patients require fewer pain medications after surgery and have shorter stays in the hospital. Even better, the team has maintained the integrity of the pathway consistently over a longer period of time than any other pediatric spinal fusion care model to date.
“Our primary goal was to improve the value of care for children with scoliosis and their families,” says Dr. Oetgen, who was the study’s lead author. “Even better, we’ve shown that this model can be used consistently over time to maintain the benefits it delivers to this patient population.”
The team conducted a retrospective analysis of prospective data from all patients (213) undergoing posterior spinal fusion at Children’s National Health System from 2014 to 2017, a period of time that captures nearly one year before implementation of the new pathway and 2.5 years after implementation. The outcomes were reported in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery.
As pressure builds to increase the value of care, many hospital systems are trying standardized care pathways for many complex conditions, in an effort to decrease care variability, improve outcomes and decrease cost. Previous research has shown the effectiveness of a variety of standardized pathways with wide ranging goals for spinal fusion procedures, however, most published studies have focused only on the initial success of these pathways. This study is the first to look at the implementation over a period of 2.5 years to gauge whether the process and its effectiveness could be maintained long term.
The authors attribute physician buy-in across disciplines and strict adherence to pathway processes as key to the success of this model. In addition, the team created standardized educational procedures for onboarding new care providers and implemented standardized electronic order sets for both orthopaedic and anesthesia services to make the pathway easy to maintain with little deviation over time. Lean process mapping at the outset included a broad group of care providers who established a collaborative environment that empowered and engaged the entire team to take ownership over the new process.
“We used proven business models for culture change that were critical to the success of this program,” Dr. Oetgen says. “We’re proud of the model we have created and think it would work well in other pediatric hospitals with similar patient populations.”
As part of its ongoing transition to value-based care, Children’s National is constantly reevaluating systems and processes across specialties and proactively seeking ways to deliver the highest quality care. This includes treatments for everything from the rarest of diseases to more frequent conditions, such as pediatric scoliosis.
In many cases of pediatric scoliosis, a surgical posterior spinal fusion – a life-changing yet complicated process – is needed to straighten the spine. The procedure involves permanently fusing bones over the curved part of the spine and requires expert coordination among physicians, nurses and therapists. To improve the procedure and make it as safe and efficient as possible, experts at Children’s National developed a first-of-its-kind pediatric spinal fusion surgical home, an innovative, family-centered approach that is making a real impact.
Prior to this initiative, patients who underwent posterior spinal fusion to treat scoliosis spent multiple days across multiple units in the hospital. Thanks to a comprehensive care pathway with input from all care providers treating these patients, overall recovery time has been reduced as well as days in the hospital. This in turn decreased the costs to both the families and Children’s National.
In the first six months of implementation, changes included decreasing the average length of stay from approximately five days to three and a half days, decreased blood transfusion rate and less use of opioid pain medications. Each of these pieces directly contributes to the safety of a child and decreased costs across the board. Ultimately, implementing cutting-edge practices like these brings the organization closer to zero harm and helps move the needle on patient care across the industry.
The first of its kind for pediatric patients, the Children’s National Spinal Fusion Surgical Home implements a newly developed model of care to streamline and optimize the spinal fusion process for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis patients.
Using frameworks of care used in adult models, along with best practices and literature reviews, a multidisciplinary team developed the first Spinal Fusion Surgical Home for pediatric patients. It standardizes the infection-control process, pain-management pathway, and physical-therapy program for patients undergoing spinal fusion.
“This model eliminates variability in the care process and increases the quality of care for pediatric patients,” said Matthew Oetgen, MD, MBA, Chief of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine. “It’s just the start—by developing this model specifically for our young patients with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, we are paving the way for a number of other kids that require different kinds of surgeries.”
Hallmarks of the spinal fusion surgical home
From pre-operative care through recovery, the Spinal Fusion Surgical Home streamlines care with an emphasis on increasing quality outcomes for patients. Children’s National provides an informational website and a single point of contact for scheduling procedures and pre-operative laboratory exams. Before surgery, patients and families attend an evening education class that features presentations from orthopaedic nurse practitioners, physical therapists, and anesthesiologists.
After surgery, a nurse follows up by phone to assess how the patient is handling pain and healing.
Increasing the quality of care
By implementing these standardized protocols, Children’s National has seen a decrease in the average length of stay for spinal fusion patients from about five days to three and a half days. The surgical home also has reduced the transfusion rate from 30 to 12 percent, and patient pain scores have decreased. “Patients are getting better faster with less pain, and are getting to leave the hospital sooner,” says Karen Thomson, MD.
Children’s National also is creating surgical homes for sickle cell disease patients, who need a variety of different types of surgery, as well as for children who need Nissen fundoplication and heart surgery.
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