A program for patients

Published 3:17 pm Friday, July 13, 2012

Cindi Muth and Becky Arneson stand outside of their offices at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea. Muth is the health care home coordinator and Arneson is the registered nurse care coordinator in the medical home system. -- Colleen Thompson/Albert Lea Tribune

By Colleen Thompson, staff intern

Albert Lea’s Mayo Clinic Health System is working to develop its own version of the medical-home concept. They’re calling it the Health Care Home Project.

Medical home is different kind of approach to health care. It’s a method of working with patients in supporting, assisting and managing their health care needs and keeping them healthy. In addition to a physician, a patient’s health team consists of an office nurse, a registered nurse care coordinator, pharmacists, health coaches, health educators and other expert health care resources such as therapists and social workers. Patients’ families also play a vital role in the process.

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“The main goal is to make the patient the decision-maker,” said Becky Arneson, a registered nurse care coordinator, said. “We just coordinate things they’re not capable of doing themselves.”

The role of care coordinators is to be the patient’s primary contact. They are the go-to people and will conduct visits to the patient’s home and the clinic, if needed. They assist the patients in completing medical transactions, referring resources, managing appointments, reviewing immunizations, assessing home safety and whatever specific needs the patient has.

“It’s old-fashioned care, where the providers really know you,” Cindi Muth, a coordinator, said.

And it’s free.

“It’s of no cost to the patient for working with care coordinators,” Arneson said.

The local program now has 55 participants. It’s typically used by patients with chronic illnesses, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and heart failure but is open to anyone seeing a health care provider in Albert Lea or one of its regional clinics in Lake Mills, New Richland, Alden, Wells and Kiester.

Currently, there are three certified physicians involved with Medical Home: Dr. Dieter Heinz, Dr. Donald Kammerer and Dr. Arvin Vocal.

“We’re in the process of getting more doctors certified,” Muth said.

Albert Lea’s medical home was certified by the state in March. Medical Assistance and other similar programs provide funds now.

“They worked very hard to receive that certification,” said Jennifer Levisen, the hospital’s public relations and marketing specialist.

Now that they’re certified by the state, they’re attempting to be nationally recognized. To be more credible, Austin and Albert Lea are working together as one unit, as of Wednesday, to be nationally certified.

“It will open doors to private insurances and more reimbursements,” Muth said.

The hope is that the local population will see that it’s an official program that can help those who qualify.

“The population will have more faith in what we’re doing,” Arneson added.

The program isn’t simply for medical purposes. It also asks each patient to make at least one personal goal for themselves and hopefully achieve it.

“There was one lady who just wanted to walk across her backyard to sit by the lake,” Arneson recalled. “We want to make things like that possible.”

Although new to Albert Lea and Austin, case management programs like medical home have been around for a while. They recently have been brought to the forefront through President Barack Obama’s health care law.

“Case management focuses on wellness and preventative measures regarding health for the whole population,” Muth said.

With all the changes in health care, places all across the United States are starting to use the medical-home concept. There are already 146 certified health care homes in Minnesota.

“We think medical home is going to boom,” Arneson said. “Health care is moving this direction.”