While the authors credited the care plans that triggered increases in medications that were tailored to patient preferences, the PHB wonders if a greater sense of control combined with the perceived support of a sympathetic listener also contributed to the greater improvement in pain.

Sound familiar?

Patients’ intake into the program was initiated with a face-to face meeting with a nurse care manager.  After a physician-approved care plan was in place, the patients were telephoned and engaged in the protocol.  The patients could then use a voice-activated system or a website to report disease status.  Outbound nurse calls were prompted if the patients requested it, reported a problem, didn’t have adequate disease control, if the medications were not being taken as prescribed or if there were side effects.  After 12 months, patients in the care management program, compared to a control group, had clinically and statistically significant improvements in the control of their condition .

To the Population Health Blog, this narrative has been repeated dozens of times involving numerous chronic health conditions.  In this latest example, Dr. Kroeknke and colleagues randomly allocated 250 patients with three months or more of chronic musculoskeletal pain to either a) state-of-the-art pain care or b) state-of-the-art pain care plus nurse led care management.

Twelve months later (and after only one drop-out), patients in the first group rated their pain as having dropped from a baseline of 5.1 to 4.6 out of ten (zero is no pain, 10 is awful), while the second care management group rated their pain as having dropped from 5.3 to 3.6.  Total time spent by the care manager averaged 3-4 hours per patient.

While patients in the care management group were taking more medications, there was no difference between the two groups in narcotic use.  There was also no difference in health care utilization.

The PHB’s take:

While the authors credited the care plans that triggered increases in medications that were tailored to patient preferences, the PHB wonders if a greater sense of control combined with the perceived support of a sympathetic listener also contributed to the greater improvement in pain.

Once again, there wasn’t hard “savings” or a “return on investment.”  However, the expense of only three to four hours of nurse care manager time to achieve a one-point improvement on a 0-10 scale of pain not only seems like a wise investment, it’s a comparative bargain.

First posted on The Population Health Blog 7/23/2014