In the capitated healthcare system of the future, illness prevention will be essential for assuring a profitable bottom line.
Hospitals will receive a set amount from a health plan to cover the needs of a patient. And those facilities that focus on disease prevention programs will be far better off financially than those that must provide costly surgical care for a patient.
Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn., believes the time has come for such a patient-driven, holistic approach.
Its 2-year-old Heart Disease Reversal Program taps into the current trends of more exercise, better eating, and taking a more active role in one's own mental, physical and emotional conditioning.
The plan is one of about a dozen such specialty programs in the country that seek to attack illness before it occurs. It's designed to help patients who have heart problems reduce their cholesterol levels and chances of heart disease. It also is open to people who simply need or want to become more healthy.
The five-component plan strives to reduce risk by dealing with the causes of heart disease. Its foundation is a low-fat vegetarian diet.
"You don't have to give up good eating; you just need to learn how to eat good," said John Bustelos, the hospital's president.
The plan also includes a low-impact aerobic exercise regimen, stress-reduction seminars, support group meetings and smoking cessation classes.
Participants are initiated during a six-day or weekend retreat in which doctors, dietitians, nurses and specialists teach them the knowledge, skills and commitment that will allow them to lead healthier lives.
After the retreat and 12 weeks of follow-up care, patients begin a 40-week maintenance program based on peer-support groups. Patients meet two times a week for four hours. They have dinner, attend a stress reduction class and a support-group meeting, and perform light exercise.
The total charge for the yearlong experience is about $6,500. This is $15,000 less than angioplasty and $55,000 less than bypass surgery. Insurance plans often cover the initial retreat and 12 weeks of follow-up care because they fall under the category of heart disease rehabilitation.
Since the program's launch in 1993, Griffin has had more than 120 patients enroll; the majority of them are still actively involved in at least one aspect of the program.
The hospital has made more than $200,000 on the program thus far and has gained much notoriety in the Northeast. "We've had people coming from all over the state of Connecticut and the region," said Bustelos.
The program is designed not only to give physical support, but also emotional and spiritual nurturing. "Some of our patients have said that the emotional support is the most important thing," Bustelos said. "Allowing them to get in touch with their feelings connects them with their spiritual self and other patients. Long-lasting friendships are formed during these encounters."
In addition to the heart disease plan, Griffin also offers a program to its 11,500 employees so they can better understand patients' needs. The voluntary program, encouraged through incentives, is a weekend retreat set in a rural environment where workers are forced to depend upon one another. The purpose is to make the employees more aware of one another's feelings and become more cooperative later on in the workplace. This will allow for better patient care.
Griffin is one of the largest hospitals incorporating the patient-oriented Planetree philosophy throughout the facility. The hospital attempts to create a homelike atmosphere as it meets the needs of the patients and their families. Patients are provided with private rooms with easy access for family and staff.
"Griffin Hospital has been able to bond with its patients because the program is a great way to build a community," Bustelos said. "Health is a product of physical, emotional and spiritual conditioning. The community affects all of these, and that is why the community is the basis for all of our healthcare programs."