Under Beeson Scholar program, SOM’s Eric Coleman pioneers research into improving care transitions for seniors

By Joysa Winter Office of Public Relations December 2003 In his final year as a Paul Beeson Faculty Scholar in Aging Research, Associate Professor Eric A. Coleman, MD, MPH, is wrapping up a busy three years of pioneering research and developing a national policy agenda in the area of care transitions for older adults. Being named to the prestigious Beeson Scholars program in 2001 has given Dr. Coleman the unprecedented opportunity to not only advance scientific understanding in this little-understood area of health care delivery, but to also advise policymakers and health care leaders about his findings. “Typically when a person receives a research grant, that provides you the means to study one issue,” Dr. Coleman said. “The Beeson award gives you an incredible level of flexibility that lets you do some cross-cutting work in addition to stepping outside of your research and looking at the next steps, and making them happen.” “Before you can drive the locomotive, you need to lay down the tracks. This award has afforded me the opportunity to do both.” The Beeson program provides three-year grants of up to $450,000, divided into $150,000 per year. Up to $100,000 of this amount is available for salary and benefits to protect a minimum of 75 percent of the scholar’s time for research, with the remainder available annually for research support. Nominations for the awards are made by deans of accredited American medical schools. The award is funded by the John A. Hartford Foundation, the Commonwealth Fund and the Starr Foundation and is administered by the American Federation for Aging Research. With his award, Dr. Coleman has explored ways of reducing health care fragmentation for older adults, which commonly occurs when they transition across different care settings, such as from a hospital to a nursing facility and back to their primary care physician. Within this umbrella, he has launched a half-dozen projects, ranging from new research studies; to hosting the first-ever national conference on the topic in Aspen in September 2002; to advising lawmakers on the Senate Aging Committee, who are presently considering whether to authorize a GAO report on care transitions. He is also engaged in discussions with the Institute of Medicine about a potential report on barriers to effective care transitions that had initially been proposed under the Prescription Drug Coverage bill. “The problems and issues that arise when a senior is moved from one care setting to another is a terribly underaddressed area that is not even on the radar screen of most policymakers,” Dr. Coleman said. “These patients’ care needs often fall through the cracks. “Among the successes we’ve had in the past year is the development of interventions that support patients and caregivers during care transitions, with additional

support from the Hartford Foundation. We have demonstrated that with some simple tools and coaching, we were able to reduce patients’ rehospitalization rates by half.” Dr. Coleman and his team also have developed measures for evaluating the quality of patients’ care transitions with support from the National Institute on Aging and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. These measures are under consideration for inclusion in HCAHPS ®, which will be implemented by hospitals nationwide. In yet another project, Dr. Coleman utilized a national Medicare data set to determine the frequency of complicated care transitions, which was found to average 1225 percent. He has also developed a model to predict which patients would likely experience complicated transitions. “The great thing about the Beeson award is that it supports an entire research agenda,” Dr. Coleman said. “There is no way I could have been working in so many different areas without it.” Dr. Coleman received his medical degree from the University of California-San Francisco and his master’s in public health and aging at the University of CaliforniaBerkeley. He completed residencies and fellowships (Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars and Geriatric Medicine) at the University of Washington. He first came to the CU School of Medicine as an assistant professor in 1998. Now an associate professor, he works in the school’s Division of Geriatric Medicine and the Division of Health Care Policy and Research, where he is also an assistant division head. To learn more about Dr. Coleman’s work, tune into PBS in January, when he is featured in a special documentary called And Thou Shalt Honor, where he discusses the challenges of supporting caregivers.