If I Had an ESCO…

This blog post was made by Dori Schatell, MS, Executive Director, Medical Education Institute on August 20, 2015.
If I Had an ESCO…

If you are anything like me, you may feel the need to break into silent song right now. Perhaps If I Had a Hammer is now running through your head. Or, maybe If I Were a Rich Man, from Fiddler on the Roof. Interestingly, the former is about changing the world for the better, while the latter is about what it might feel like to be so wealthy that hard work wasn’t necessary—and both may apply to ESCOs, or “ESRD Seamless Care Organizations;” the CMS pilot program of global capitated payment for dialysis to reduce costs and improve health outcomes.

As a Kaiser Permanente (Mid-Atlantic) member, I see the value of global capitated healthcare. Kaiser is highly motivated to provide good clinical care, including prevention, and engage me in taking care of myself. To the extent that I stay healthy, they don’t have to spend as much money on me, and keep more of the fees for my care.

U.S. health plans most likely don’t come out ahead when people have cancer or need dialysis, the two most costly chronic diseases for insurers. These serious illnesses require tremendous resources from the healthcare system—as well as tremendous participation from patients themselves. (We tend to forget that part.) Our healthcare “system” and medical education are based on a Western medicine, acute healthcare approach that works very well for high intensity events like separating conjoined twins or treating trauma victims, but not well at all for long-term, complex, chronic illnesses.

Let’s look at two illnesses, one acute (bacterial pneumonia) and one chronic (ESRD). Here’s how they play out:

Pneumonia (Acute) ESRD (Chronic)
Duration Short. No one lives for years with pneumonia—it is either cured or fatal. Life-long. Once diagnosed, it is always present. Even a transplant is a treatment, not a cure.
Therapeutic Goal Cure. We can cure this! (At least while our antibiotics still work…) More good days than bad. We can’t cure a chronic disease. If we could, it would become an acute illness.
Care Team’s Job Provide good clinical care. Once the patient is well, s/he will resume a normal life.

• Provide good clinical care

• Teach patients to self-manage. There are many things they need to learn to do.

Patient’s Job Seek good care and comply with doctor’s orders. There is no time to become an expert, and no need. Self-manage medicines, diet, fluids, access, and treatment. There is a lot to learn and follow through on. This disease has a daily quality of life impact.

To put this another way, here is the Wagner Chronic Care model. As you can see, good health outcomes hinge on two key factors: informed, activated patients working in productive interactions with a prepared, proactive practice team. Self-management support is a big piece of this, along with delivery system design, decision support, and clinical information systems.

The Chronic Care Model

To succeed, ESCOs—and all other healthcare systems—must engage consumers in their self-management job, which is not compliance. Self-management support isn’t an optional add-on, it is a central requirement of chronic disease care, because:

  • No one else can take a medication for a patient.
  • No one else can eat or drink for a patient.
  • No one else can show up to receive that person’s treatment.

Besides following a treatment plan that suits the individual’s lifestyle and values (MEI offers free decision support for dialysis here), self-management encompasses maintaining safety and managing and reporting symptoms. To motivate people who may be anxious, depressed, angry, and/or terrified to learn a seemingly endless mass of complex instructions (where mistakes can and are fatal), we have to start from their perspective—not ours as healthcare professionals. People who are terrified cannot learn.1 The fight-or-flight reflex kicks in, making learning impossible. Educating people without first addressing their fears and helping them feel hopeful is a waste of time.

Even if we do start from a place of compassion and offer hope, we still need to be able to help people along a motivational continuum from:

  • Amotivation (“Whatever. Nothing I do makes any difference anyway…”) to
  • Extrinsic motivation (compliance) to
  • Intrinsic motivation, where people take on certain behaviors because they want to.2

As someone with prediabetes, I radically changed my diet, take a raft of supplements, sometimes use my FitBit, and routinely poke myself with a lancet to test my blood sugar, because it’s my best self-management tool. I’m intrinsically motivated to not get the disease my dad has, and so far, so good. That’s where we need people with ESRD to be, but they don’t get there by accident. We can help them by supporting their needs for:

  • Competence – Feeling as if they can accomplish what they set out to do
  • Autonomy – Making active choices
  • Relatedness – Feeling connected to others

Each of these three psychological needs, critical from infancy through adulthood, has been shown by self-determination theory to boost intrinsic motivation.2

The question is whether the ESCOs will continue to apply U.S. medicine as usual (perhaps just more of it or with improved coordination) and miss the opportunity to apply the Chronic Care Model, to guide people across the motivational continuum, and to engage them effectively as expert patients and active self-managers—or whether ESCOs will apply adult learning principles and self-determination theory to help people produce their own best health outcomes.

If I ran an ESCO, I know which I would do.

  1. Perry BD. Fear and learning: Trauma-related factors in the adult education process, in The Neuroscience of Adult Learning: New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, Number 110, by Sandra Johnson and Kathleen Taylor, July 11, 2006. Jossey-Bass, ISBN-10: 0787987042.
  2. Ryan RM, Deci EL. Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist. 2000;55(1):68-78. DOI: 10.1037//0003-066X.55.1.68


  • Dori

    Aug 21, 2015 12:15 AM

    You could always send them some Vegemite--that might get their attention! :-)

    Many years ago, we had an advocacy engine feature on this site, but it was costly and no one really used it. It's easy enough, though, for folks to Google their elected representative and send these off with pleas for the US dialysis community to do better!
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    • John Agar

      Aug 21, 2015 12:50 AM

      Known locally by many as 'the Vegemite Kid' ... I just LOVE the 'black gold' of Vegemite to bits and cant operate a day without it ... I need all I can get. T

      [NB recent media stories about it being used to make 'moonshine' were a complete hoax and fabrication - yet the media stories went round the world!]

      Vegemite is one small joy in my life that I flatly refuse to share with the US legislature, even if it would get their attention.
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      • Dori

        Aug 25, 2015 8:06 PM

        I assure you, your Vegemite stash is safe from me. :-D
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  • John agar

    Aug 20, 2015 11:47 PM

    I think it is called ESP (extra sensory perception) or maybe CTT (coincidental telepathic thought) but ...

    Just as this blog post came through 10 minutes ago, I was doing something that I rarely do - or have the time or inclination to do ... I was re-reading one of my own previous writings, the "Dear Senators" piece that was both published here as a blog late in 2014, and then re-published by Nephrology News and Issues on November 24th 2014 as a Vewpoint piece.


    It struck me how 'on song' the two pieces appear to be, when taken together ... your ESCO blog, and the 'Dear Senators' plea I penned to your legislators (clearly unread, unheeded, and unnoticed) to legislate for the empowerment, not the enslavement, of U.S. dialysis patients by directing funding and support to encourage self-management at home, and not self-subjugation in-centre.

    Maybe my 'Dear Senators' blog, paired with your ESCO blog, ought to be sent synchronously by mail, email and carrier pigeon to every Senator and Member of Congress to read over their Weeties at breakfast!

    Perhaps they might then start thinking straight - or choke on their Weeties!

    John Agar
    Regional Australia
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