A few weeks ago, we had a patient call around 9:00 am. She had been recently diagnosed with the flu, and was struggling to keep down any food or fluids. We were able to get her an appointment at the office within two hours of the call and administered IV fluids to prevent dehydration. If the patient hadn’t called us first, or if we didn’t have open-access scheduling, she would have likely ended up in the emergency department.

In the same week, another patient contacted us and said that she didn’t feel quite right. Again, we leveraged our open-access scheduling to get her into the office quickly. This patient was also scheduled for a knee replacement surgery within the next two weeks. She was concerned that her current condition would prevent her from proceeding with the surgery. I evaluated her and determined although she was without a fever, she had pyelonephritis, an infection of the kidney. At the visit, I gave her intramuscular antibiotics to treat the infection and contacted her orthopedic surgeon to provide a report on her visit and treatment plan.

Through the rest of the week, I saw her every day at the office to monitor her progress and keep her surgeon informed on her course of care. She was very anxious about the surgery but trusted that since I was monitoring her closely, I wasn’t going to let her go through it if I felt she wasn’t ready. Thankfully, she was able to make a full recovery in time to have the knee replacement. This could have resulted in significant perioperative complications had she not called us first.

At Dixie Primary Care, our patients know that we can be available if they reach out to us when they experience health concerns. If a patient can contact us before they go to the emergency department, there’s a good chance we can care for them at the office immediately, thereby saving them an unpleasant, lengthy, and expensive visit to the ER. Each of our providers keeps four acute appointments open every day which create 16 same-day consultation slots for the whole practice.

When I tell other doctors about our scheduling process, they often ask whether it is difficult to fill all of the same day appointments. Our response is that this is a conscious choice in an effort to serve our patients, regardless of whether we fill the slots. In some instances, we have used these appointments to reconcile medications after patients get discharged from the ER, hospital or rehabilitation facility. We have decided that it is more important to be available for our patients than to overbook our providers’ days.

This scheduling process parallels our mission to provide value-based care as it leads to remarkably low rates of ED utilization by our patients. Our rates are among the lowest in all of Aledade’s partner practices, which are already lower than many primary care practices across the country. It helps our patients get the right care, at the right time, for the right reason, thereby improving patient experience and compliance and decreasing costs.

A patient’s fears and concerns can be enough for them to turn to just anyone for help. For my family and friends, I would want them to see a doctor who knows them well and whom they can implicitly trust. This is what being a primary care provider is all about.

To succeed in value-based care, practices need to help patients get the right care at the right time in the right setting. At Aledade, we help practices do just that by reducing unnecessary emergency department (ED) use, improving care coordination with specialists, and managing chronic conditions.

Another way we improve quality is by engaging home health providers as key partners. Home health care accounts for eight to ten percent of total spending across our ACOs.

A primary care physician (PCP) can order home health for a patient in a hospital or another setting. Every 60 days after that, the physician needs to recertify the services as medically necessary for the patient. In the past, PCPs had limited insight into home health quality. They might not know when patients started home health care. They might not have clear communication during the recertification (or recert) process. This often leads to significant care gaps, and risks for the patient.

Our partner practices in Arkansas grew frustrated with the recert process, so they decided to revamp it. When a home health agency submits a recert request to the PCP, the practice’s care manager reviews it right away. The care manager checks if the patient is improving, and calls the home health agency to learn more. The office then schedules the patient for an appointment to review their progress towards their health care goals. Together, the PCP and the patient decide if the patient should continue with home health care. Sometimes another service, like Chronic Care Management, social support, transportation, or education, is more appropriate.

One patient in the Arkansas ACO had received home health services for diabetes management for more than a year. Both the patient and the PCP were frustrated. The patient’s A1C hadn’t improved and their ED utilization had increased. The practice stopped home health, and enrolled the patient in an in-office diabetic education program. There, the patient learned about triggers and how to manage insulin levels. The patient was also able to meet with the practice’s nutritionist for help with planning groceries and meals.

According to the team at Dr. Walker’s Clinic in De Queen, Arkansas, the new home health workflow ensures the practice reviews “all patients prior to admission to home health and performed at every recertification. We have a nurse that manages this population and meets with our home health agencies bi-weekly to discuss goals, recerts, and discharges.”

In West Virginia, our partner practices worked with home health agencies to reduce preventable admissions and readmissions. The home health agencies created a Collaborative Performance Review. They identify the hospital utilization of home health patients and find out how many hospital admissions were readmissions. They also look at patients who screened positive for depression, falls risk, and ED overutilization. This summary finds gaps in patient care, showing how the practice could have prevented a patient’s admission or readmission.

According to Dr. Tom Bowden of Charleston Internal Medicine in the Aledade West Virginia ACO:

“The transition from hospital to home is a critical step in the well-being of our patients. Partnering with home health agencies that can assist us in this process is vital. Finding the home health agencies that are willing to work with us, make changes, provide the care our patients need and track quality metrics will certainly help reach the triple aim of improving health outcomes, improving the patient experience and lowering health care costs.”

All of this starts with a question: “What information from would be most helpful when making a recert determination?”

By focusing on this question, we’ve developed a form for home health agencies. We found home health agencies were eager to provide the necessary information, as were the PCPs. This summary, and the conversations that came with it, are still in the early stages. However, we expect that more communication will identify the most necessary recerts.

Better home health care means patients get the right, high quality care. We work with our home health partners to transition patients from skilled nursing facilities, nursing homes, and hospitals safely and sooner when possible. Home health also helps to proactively keep high risk patients safely out of the hospital. This requires close partnerships with home health agencies, and the communication to paint a full picture of the patient’s health. Armed with this, Aledade’s partner practices can ensure their patients get coordinated care in the right place at the right time.

It’s hard to stay healthy if you don’t have a place to call home.

That’s what we learned firsthand, when one of our patients came in for his annual wellness visit.

Thanks to Aledade, we’ve been doing a lot more of these AWVs. They give us a chance to have a conversation with our patients that’s not just about the test or procedure or illness they came in for that day. They help us see the full picture of the patient’s health. Thanks to Aledade’s care management trainings and real-time data and analytics from the Aledade app, we know which patients we need to see for an AWV, and how to work with them when they arrive.

Our patient that day was wheelchair bound, so we asked how his social situation was. Sometimes patients in a wheelchair can get to feeling a bit lonely. In the course of the conversation, though, this patient told us that he had recently lost his home. The waiting list for housing assistance stretched out for three years. In the meantime, the only place he could stay was a shed in his friend’s backyard.

As a care management team, we knew we had to do something.

Housing is such an important part of good health. The National Council on Health Care for the Homeless covers a few reasons for this. A clean, dry and safe environment supports good personal hygiene, the storage of medication, and safety from people and the weather. A private space lets a patient establish stable personal relationships, and have good social interactions with other people. Importantly for us as health care professionals, a patient with a place of their own is more likely to stick with a treatment plan, eat meals regularly, and show up on time for appointments. And housing reduces anxiety and the impact of stress-related illnesses.

Aledade’s practice transformation specialist Connie Perkins and I knew that a three-year wait was too long. So we spent countless hours on the phone with the state’s resources for homeless and disabled persons. Tooele is a rural community. We don’t have that many resources for housing, but after a lot of work and some persistence, we did it.

We were able to find housing for this patient in Wendover. Even though Wendover’s a two hour drive away from our town, the patient was thrilled to have a home of his own. He even started looking for work around his new place.

Thanks to an annual wellness visit – supported by the training, technology, and partnership of Aledade – we helped our patient get healthier, by finding a place to call his own.

In about two weeks, I’m joining the team at Aledade as Chief Administrative Officer – largely because three years ago, I went through a health scare.

It wasn’t me; it was my then 86-year-old father. And what started with a short-term crisis dragged out into a long-term battle with our dysfunctional health care system.

For two years, my dad bounced between doctors, hospitalists and specialists. We never got a clear picture of his health or the care he was getting. His doctors rarely talked to one another, rarely gave him much time and I couldn’t talk to them to understand it all.

At the same time, this was happening while I worked at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, tasked with running the entire Medicare program. I couldn’t help but put our situation into a broader context: if this frustrating and frightening ordeal could happen to my dad- a brilliant lawyer who was on the Law Review at Penn — and his son who ran the world’s largest insurer, what was it like for other families who didn’t have our resources and our knowledge of how to navigate this confusing health care system?

Fortunately, we were saved by a good quarterback – someone who could take a step back and look at the entire field of my father’s health. For an entire hour, a geriatrician sat with my father just to talk with him. He got a sense of his health conditions, what was giving him the most trouble, and the serpentine path he had taken to get help.

The doctor set up a care plan with him, and took a close look at his medications. When we focused on one drug in particular, my father pointed out that studies had shown it was relatively effective. “That’s true,” the doctor said, “until about 75 years of age.” My dad was taking medication that stopped being effective – and possibly became harmful to him — about ten years ago. In the end, we cleared out about half of my father’s prescriptions. It was as if a switch had been thrown. Over the next few months, my dad returned to the person we knew.

Value-based health care, directed by empowered, independent primary care physicians, is what my father and I needed then. Today, everyone agrees it’s what we all need now.

We need primary care physicians to be the stewards of care, guiding patients through this confusing health care system like the captains of a ship – always pointed to the north star of better health. We need a health care system that doesn’t focus on how many procedures or prescriptions patients get, but on how well their doctors keep them healthy. When those priorities are misaligned, that’s when our health care system doesn’t work. I know, because that’s what my father and I saw firsthand.

I’m joining Aledade because I know the team here is working with incredible physicians best situated to chart that path to value-based care. For years at CMS, I looked at the results and dove into the data – I saw that the future of health care will be led by primary care physicians with the autonomy to act in their patients’ best interests. I saw this potential for success across commercial plans, Medicare Advantage, and traditional Medicare – and Aledade’s covering all of these.

At Medicare, my focus was on the operational integrity of a program that provides insurance for more than 55 million Americans. I worked to ensure the program was run efficiently and responsibly for the taxpayers, and that we kept focused on our strategic goals of improving care and reducing costs. That’s what I’m most excited to do here at Aledade. My focus will be making sure the trains run on time – that our hardworking teams are valued and supported, and that we’re helping our partner practices along every step of this journey.

I’m also joining Aledade because there’s a unique mix of purpose and people in this place. I came from public service, and I wanted to join an organization with a mission that’s bigger than profits or short-term returns. Aledade lives its mission every single day.

I also was lucky to work at CMS with some of the most brilliant people in health policy who were also great colleagues. And I see those same qualities here at Aledade. Thanks to the hard work of so many people, Aledade partners with more than 200 primary care practices in 17 states to actively manage the care of nearly a quarter of a million patients. I can’t wait to be a part of the team that’s building the leading model for a health system that’s good for patients, good for doctors, and good for society.

It was my second day at Aledade when someone told me to get out.

I thought it was a bit early to be fired, but the new colleague sounded convincing enough. I assumed they knew what they were doing.

Luckily, this wasn’t some drastic HR move. It was the first of many times that I’d hear, “You have to get out into the field. Go visit a practice.”

It’s a mantra here at Aledade. Everyone, even the current and former health care professionals on staff, seemed to have a story of the first time they visited one of Aledade’s partner practices. They all said that setting foot in a practice is the best way to find out what works, what doesn’t, and to get a sense of just how challenging and rewarding it is to work in an independent primary care practice today.

So when I first got the chance to visit Kansas, tagging along with New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo as he worked on his new piece about Aledade’s work, I hopped on a flight to Wichita.

Before joining Aledade, I worked on the public affairs team at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. We promoted Open Enrollment for the Health Insurance Marketplace, talked about programs like Head Start, and got key messages out to the public about health threats like Ebola, Zika, and the opioid epidemic. But there was one story we kept coming back to – the future of health care.

We saw it every time we heard from doctors, and every time the Secretary visited a practice. Data had opened up new frontiers. Patients now had the tools to get engaged in their own care. And payment systems focused on value were starting to reward physicians who kept their patients healthy. There was a palpable sense that you could deliver better care and start to lower costs.

It seemed like everything was pointing down this path. Policymakers from both sides of the aisle saw the promise in this new approach. MACRA, the law that changed Medicare’s payment system into one that rewards the value of care, passed the Senate nearly unanimously and the House overwhelmingly. And down the street at HHS, the Department made a historic commitment – saying that, by 2018, half of all payments in Medicare would be payments that rewarded the value of care, not the old fee for service system.

But it wasn’t until I visited Aledade’s partner practices in Kansas that I realized how far down the path these health care professionals already were.

On Wednesday, the New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo published his piece, and he captured this well. “Thanks to Aledade,” Farhad wrote, “the [Kansas] practices’ finances had improved and their patients were healthier. On every significant measure of health care costs, the Aledade method appeared to have reduced wasteful spending.”

Here’s an example of how they were keeping patients healthy:

For example, say you’re a doctor at a small practice in rural Kansas and one of your patients, a 67-year-old man with heart disease, has just gone to the emergency room.

“In the past, we’d only find out our patients were at the hospital maybe weeks afterward,” said Dr. Bryan Dennett, who runs the Family Care Center in Winfield, Kan., with medical partner, Dr. Bryan Davis. With Aledade, Dr. Dennett is now alerted immediately, so “we can call them when they’re at the emergency room and say, ‘Hey, what are you doing there? Come back here, we can take care of you!”

The care management team at Ashley Clinic talks with Farhad.

At Ashley Clinic in Chanute, I saw a larger care team tackle an even larger patient population. As one care manager said, “before, we had the doctor and the patient; a point A and a point C. But there was no one to serve as point B. That’s changed today.”

Two of Ashley Clinic’s patients – a husband and wife – agreed. Both said the care they got now was much better than anywhere they had been before. “We don’t know what an ACO is,” they said. “But we know we hear from our doctor more. And we like that.”

Most importantly, by talking to the care teams and doctors in these practices, I learned that I had been wrong. Value-based care isn’t some new future in the distance; it’s more of a homecoming. As one doctor told me, “This is why I became a doctor in the first place.”

But getting home isn’t always easy.

It’s taking new ways of thinking – focusing on finding the highest risk patients, keeping a close eye on them through chronic care programs, following up with patients as they leave the hospital, and ensuring that patients are going to the most efficient and effective specialists.

While it asks for more time and effort on the part of doctors and care teams, who already put in countless hours caring for patients, the destination is worth the jounrey. And thanks to Aledade’s technology, dedicated support staff in the field, and some inspiring health care professionals, you can find better health care right down a long stretch of Kansas road.

There aren’t too many opportunities when you can get the present and the future of primary care in the same room. But that’s exactly what we found at the Louisiana Academy of Family Physicians’ Annual Conference.

Emma Lisec and Nadine Robin at the Aledade booth

On Wednesday afternoon, we arrived at the historic Roosevelt Hotel in downtown New Orleans – Nadine Robin, Aledade’s Southeast Executive Director, and me, Aledade’s Fellow for the Southeast. We were caffeinated, excited and ready to join a massive room full of displays from local hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and specialty groups. We set up our booth, with Aledade’s slogan: “A New Model of Primary Care”, and we waited to see who would come through the doors.

Right on cue, as the conference’s main sessions took a break, the showcase room flooded with health care professionals from across Louisiana – independent doctors, curious hospital employees, even medical students from Louisiana State University. (Geaux Tigers!)

They dropped by a number of different booths, but kept lingering by ours, wondering what that “new model of primary care” actually meant. So Nadine explained: with MIPS, the new payment program created by the 2015 Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (or “MACRA”), quality reporting was taking center stage.

Small, independent practices are the key to that focus on quality. As our CEO Farzad Mostashari has pointed out, small, physician-owned practices offer more personalization for patients. They have lower average costs per patient, fewer preventable hospital admissions, and lower readmission rates than larger, independent- and hospital-owned practices. In other words, they’re in the best position to succeed.

Nadine explained how Aledade helps their independent partner practices report these quality measures all while maintaining their independence. I noticed that a few physicians’ ears perked up at this – the prospect of having a helpful guide through MACRA and MIPS seemed to be integral to their practices staying independent.

I remember one doctor in particular who pulled us aside. He felt like his clinic was short-staffed, and the pressure to sell his practice was only growing. Nadine and I listened to him, and explained that the whole purpose of Aledade is to help small, independent physicians like his stay independent – and thrive. But to do that, we have to start with an honest relationship. We weren’t going to pressure him into joining Aledade if it wasn’t going to be in the best interest of his practice and his patients. We agreed to pull his QRUR report and follow up to see if a partnership with Aledade would be his best step.

We also spoke with some of the physicians of tomorrow. A few medical students from LSU dropped by our booth, wondering what an ACO was. To many of them, the idea of opening their own independent practice seemed out of reach. The concept of a comprehensive approach to primary care, one where the independent practice is in the center of a high value network, sounded promising. They asked us if they could reach out to us later to get a better understanding of an ACO and value-based care.

Nadine and Matt Wheeler presenting at LAFP

That Friday morning, Nadine and Matt Wheeler, one of our inspiring Office Administrators from Bossier Family Medicine in Bossier City, gave a presentation about the new world of alternative payment models. They laid out the idea of value-based care – that physicians should be empowered to provide quality care, and rewarded for helping their patients stay healthy.

They explained what an ACO is – basically a group of health care professionals committed to the health and well-being of a specific group of patients. And they explained why this future – better health care at lower cost – was inevitable. It’s good for doctors, good for patients and good for society.

Nadine with Dr. Jose Mata, a family medicine doctor in New Iberia, LA

Nadine and Matt weren’t the only ones making the case for value-based care. A number of Aledade’s partner physicians in Louisiana were there too – each of them explaining to other doctors why value-based care works.

This whole move to a better health care system isn’t being led by any single practice or any single company, like Aledade. It’s a partnership – a network of practices who want to keep their patients healthy, and organizations working to help those practices succeed. Value-based care is the best model for today’s primary care physicians here in Louisiana, and tomorrow’s too.

Are conversations between doctors and patients the key to good health care? How well do doctors and patients actually talk to one another? In a 1984 study, Howard Beckman and Robert Frankel surveyed 74 practices and recorded how doctors listened and interacted with their patients. 77 percent of the time, physicians prevented their patients from completing an opening statement by asking questions about a specific concern. On average, it happened 18 seconds after the patient began talking.

Beckman and Frankel’s study was conducted in 1984, but the results resonated in a larger study by Lawrence Dyche and Deborah Swiderski in 2005. Physicians in that study asked a question during a patient’s opening statement in 72 percent of the visits, on average in 23 seconds. A quarter of doctors did not solicit patient questions at all.

The average doctor spends between 13 and 15 minutes with a patient. In only 15 minutes, the doctor and patient are supposed to discuss a full patient history, treatment plan and questions. The question at the root of this problem is why do doctors feel the need to rush?

The current fee-for-service system does not reward doctors for having long, detailed conversations with their patients. It incentivizes them to provide more treatments, because payment depends on quantity of care rather than quality of care. Understandably, this system is infuriating to both doctors and patients. However, the fee-for-service system is not the only healthcare model available to doctors.

At Aledade, we focus on helping doctors do their jobs the way that they want to – so that they can listen longer, ask deeper questions, and get more complete answers from patients without needing to rush through diagnoses and treatment plans. As you may have seen in some of our success stories on our blog we do this in many ways, most often by helping our partner practices effectively conduct Annual Wellness Visits (AWVs), Chronic Care Management (CCM), and Transitional Care Management (TCM). These stories highlight how value-based care and a patient-centered approach improves the patient-provider relationship and improves health outcomes.

Communication is the cornerstone of patient care. A report by the Joint Commission, an organization accredits healthcare programs and organizations,  found that  “communication failure was at the root of over 70 percent of serious adverse health outcomes in hospitals.”  Aledade partner practices have learned the value of good communication between a doctor and a patient.

In 2015, Aledade’s ACOs decreased emergency department (ED) visit rates by 6 to 7 percent. The ED visit rate for the Medicare Fee-For-Service (FFS) population increased by 2.4 percent. Hospitalization rates decreased by 5 to 7 percent, while hospitalization rates for Medicare FFS populations increased by 2.4 percent. And Aledade’s ACOs decreased readmissions by 7 to 11 percent. Across Medicare FFS, readmissions increased by 8 to 9 percent.  

What could account for the difference? For starters, AWV, TCM, and CCM all help  practices catch problems earlier, and provide more consistent care. Annual Wellness Visits help to decrease ED visit rates by helping physicians identify high-risk patients and give them the tools they need to avoid a trip to the emergency room, saving on costly hospital bills. Transitional Care Management lowers readmission rates by helping patients stay out of the hospital when they’ve been discharged from the hospital.he Chronic Care Management program provides high risk patients with intensive ongoing care management support that decreases adverse health events, decreases readmissions and improves self-management skills.

If a provider has the space and time to listen to their patients, they can lay the foundation for mutually trusting and beneficial relationships. This trusting relationship is a key component in providing value-based care as it improves patient satisfaction and health outcomes. It all starts with a conversation, and it is more important than ever to really listen.

Here at Aledade, we talk a lot about getting out beyond the four walls of the practice – because that’s how you get a window into the real challenges that a patient faces every day. They might be challenges we couldn’t have seen if we kept doing business the same old way. And sometimes, if we fix those, everything else can fall into place.

One of our partner practices proved this not too long ago. Dr. Syed Zaidi has been working in the town of Ripley, Tennessee for the past 20 years – providing care to the families around Ripley through his independent practice. And thanks to Aledade, he was able to care for them with some new tools.

In 2016, Dr. Zaidi started offering Chronic Care Management to some of his Medicare patients. This meant that a care management team would check up on his patients with more complex chronic conditions, making sure they had their medications and to try to get ahead of anything that could go wrong.

One patient had been in care management for a while, but Dr. Zaidi and his team weren’t seeing any changes. Neither he nor the patient felt like they were really making progress.

Then one day, the family opened up, and shared the real challenge they were living with every day. They were homeless. For several weeks, the entire family had been living out of their car – joined by a few animals they had adopted as pets. Their home had been infected with mold, making it uninhabitable, and they didn’t know where to turn.

That’s where the care management team and Dr. Zaidi’s whole practice jumped in. They helped the family find a safe place to live. Through community resources, they secured donations and raised money to provide the family everything from new mattresses to new clothes. And, since the family’s new home couldn’t take pets, Dr. Zaidi’s team even found good homes for every one of the animals. Today, the family’s healthier, and the patient’s chronic conditions are under much better control.

Chronic diseases are only going to get more challenging in the years to come. In 2012, the CDC estimated that one out of every two adults in the U.S. had at least one chronic condition. One in every four U.S. adults had two or more. And 86 percent of all of U.S. health care spending in 2010 was for people with at least one chronic medical condition. Chronic care management – by actually connecting patients with an active and engaged care management team – can tackle a daunting challenge for our health care system, and open up new possibilities in lowering costs.

But most of all, CCM helps our patients live better lives. Thanks to CCM through Aledade, we found out about this family’s situation. And thanks to the compassion and drive of Dr. Zaidi and his care management team, this family got back on their feet and back on the road to better health.

As the Care Manager at the Winston Clinic and a Nurse Practitioner by training, I’ve taken the lead in working with our high-risk patients, as well as those with uncontrolled chronic diseases.

When a patient is identified as “high risk”, whether that’s by Aledade or by a provider, we place the patient’s name on my desktop, and add it to our list of patients who should receive care management. Usually, these are patients who need support for a hospital discharge, or have had a new diagnosis. Sometimes, they’re patients who will need support over a longer time period. One of our new programs is to place patients with uncontrolled chronic disease onto care management before we even refer them out to a specialist.

I have multiple patients who say they benefit from care management, and their clinical numbers show the same thing. But there are two patients who stand out the most.

One was placed on care management for her diabetes. In the past three months, she’s made huge steps forward. She had been diagnosed as diabetic for more than a decade, she’s been on insulin and Metformin for some time and her HgBA1C level hit 15.3. Our clinic was just about to refer her to an endocrinologist, until I asked specifically if she could be referred to Care Management services instead.

On our first care management call, I started by just asking her why she thought her sugars were high. The patient told me that she didn’t know – she wasn’t eating any sweets or white bread. She had no idea that different fruits, vegetables and drinks were driving her sugars up. When I asked what her providers had taught her, she said she felt stupid for asking them questions, and they had assumed she already knew.

I also asked her why she wasn’t taking her insulin. It turns out she had been placed in the hospital once before for hypoglycemia because she had taken too high of a dose of insulin. She was worried about putting herself through that again.  Over the course of several phone calls and an office visit to train her how to manage her diabetes, the patient told me she feels much better about her ability to manage her diabetes.

Her last A1C reading was 11.5. That steady decrease is a win for the practice, and a win for our patient! But we’re not stopping there – we are still working together to lower these numbers this even more!

The other patient who stands out to me was diagnosed with prediabetes. She was due for an Annual Wellness Visit (AWV), so we brought her in. I gave her a health risk assessment, where she remarked that she felt unwell today. But she wasn’t very specific. Then I saw that her PHQ9 – a depression health questionnaire – was off the charts. I put the diabetes aside for a second, and started using some of my coaching skills to help her to open up.

She told me that she was suicidal on most days. Her mother had died three weeks before, and often she would lay in bed and cry all day. She had missed her previous day’s counseling appointment, and wasn’t scheduled to see her outpatient counselor for another several weeks.

I determined that she was not suicidal at that moment, and began to use some of our health coaching strategies. I asked her if she could picture herself happy. She said she could not. She said the only reason she hadn’t killed herself is because she didn’t want her girls to lose their grandmother and their mother in the same year.

Needless to say, we talked a lot. In the end, she decided that she could commit to one change. She would spend time each day trying to picture herself happy. And during the few times a week that she felt happy, she would write down what she was grateful for. As soon as the patient left, I called the counselor, and she called the patient for a phone visit immediately. She’s visited her counselor multiple times.

I have spoken with the patient every week over the course of several weeks. She felt that I wasn’t judging her during the first visit, that I actually cared about the “other stuff”, even though she was there to discuss her diabetes.

Just recently, I asked her how she was feeling.

She responded, “I think I can be!”

I said, “You lost me. You can be what?”

“One day,” she said, “I think I can be happy!”

She has had several bad days since then, and several good days. Through the ups and the downs, I think I’m getting as much from her as she’s getting from me. And I know I would have missed out on this experience if we were not making the effort to reach out to our patients.

I believe in the power of the AWV and care management calls, because I’ve seen it in these two patients, and many others. Here at Winston Clinic, we will continue to support our high-risk patients and patients with uncontrolled chronic diseases through care management and having open, honest conversations.

Drew Brees, the quarterback of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, the first quarterback to bring home a Super Bowl trophy to the Pelican State, has a pretty simple formula for success: “When you wake up,” he says, “think about winning the day. Don’t worry about a week or a month from now – just think about one day at a time. If you are worried about the mountain in the distance, you might trip over the molehill right in front of you.”

Every morning, not far from New Orleans, there are a few more Louisianans who wake up thinking about how to win the day. They’re the team at the practice run by Dr. Bryan LeBean – a primary care physician who’s been serving in the community of Lafayette for 23 years. And they have a name an NFL quarterback would appreciate – “Team LeBean.”

Just recently, Dr. LeBean’s practice joined the Aledade Louisiana Accountable Care Organization – to find new ways to provide better care to the families in Lafayette, while keeping the practice’s independence. Working closely with other practices in the area, Team LeBean shared some of the tactics and strategies that worked for them – how to properly conduct an Annual Wellness Visit, some ideas for good care management.

They also borrowed a few good ideas, one of which has paid off every morning. Before starting each day, Team LeBean sits down for a Daily Huddle. The entire care management team runs through a few standard questions, and then covers any other topics that came up.

They start by looking at how many AWVs have been scheduled for the day, and how many patients are in the hospital or recently visited the Emergency Department – information that they can find right on the Aledade app.

They then take a look at a few patients with chronic conditions – like diabetic patients, especially those in need of an eye exam, and patients enrolled in tobacco cessation. After running through a few other items, they wrap up by focusing on any particular patient complaints or concerns – always keeping an eye on how today can run even better than the day before.

That’s how you win the day. By working closely together – practices like Team LeBean, their patients, and Aledade are winning the day. And they’re well on their way to a better health care system with strong, independent primary care practices suiting up in the quarterback role they were always meant to play.