AACP Continuity of Care Guidelines
Best Practices for Managing Transitions Between Levels of Care
Continuing engagement with treatment and recovery services is one of the most important aspects of addressing an episode of illness or ongoing disabilities associated with severe behavioral health problems. Interruption of care, for whatever reason, is among the most significant obstacles to establishing a stable recovery. It is in response to these circumstances that the AACP has prepared these guidelines to assist providers and planners in establishing standards for the management of transitions between levels of care.
A Progressive Conceptualization of the Service Continuum
With the development of LOCUS and CALOCUS, the AACP developed a structure of variable intensity service arrays that incorporate evolving concepts of "Levels of Care". In contrast to traditional concepts, overlapping and integrated levels of resource intensity are described, more conducive to providing true linkages between the phases of treatment for a given episode of illness. It is from this perspective that we have elaborated these guidelines for transition management.
Critique of Traditional Terminology
The traditional terminology of "discharge" planning is usually counterproductive in establishing continuity of care as it reinforces the notion of discreet, independent treatment programs operating in a fragmented system of care. Consequently, "discharge" terminology implies:
- Termination of service rather than a transformation of service variables and continuation of service in another setting.
- Recovery is sufficiently established and stable that services are no longer required.
- The complete termination of one provider's responsibility and the equally complete assumption of responsibility by another provider.
These concepts associated with discharge often lead to conflict between providers and the development of cracks in the service continuum through which many consumers readily fall.
Transition Rather Than Discharge
"Transition" planning better captures the concept of continuing care (not aftercare) throughout the episode of illness or service need.
- Transition implies concurrent and bi-directional responsibilities of all relevant elements of the service system as specific aspects of the treatment plan change.
- Transition implies collaboration among providers, which is required for a successful progression through the continuum.
Although this concept of fully integrated service systems still remains idealistic in most cases, the articulation of this ideal is an important element in the reform process. In this document we will use the traditional terminology in parallel with the more progressive "transition" terminology described here, recognizing that reality and idealism must rub shoulders during the process of change.
Applications of the Guidelines
These guidelines are intended to be more than a simple statement of principles. Rather, they are intended to provide a quality management framework by which systems of any type can continuously monitor and improve their processes for managing client transitions. For this to occur, it is essential that these organizations not only endorse these principles in theory, but also create methods to measure their implementation in practice. With this thought in mind, a sample outcome indicator is attached to each of the principles elaborated in the guidelines. Indicators of this type, customized and quantified to reflect the specific circumstances of the organization developing them, would allow for the measurement of the adherence to these principles.
These guidelines, along with their companion documents for special populations, will continue to evolve. We hope that these guidelines will be useful in their present form to all elements of the service system.
Continuity of Care Guidelines for Behavioral Health Service Systems
- Governmental agencies and other purchasers can use them for developing standards for contracts
- Regulatory agencies can use them in practice guidelines and standard development.
- Program managers and quality managers can use them for developing program standards and quality indicators.
- Clinicians can use them in elaborating transition plans.
The following are general principles for developing transition plans for persons using behavioral health services moving from one level of care to another. They offer a synopsis of elements common to this process regardless of the setting or the population that is being served. Specific needs and issues related to special populations are elaborated in a series of companion documents, which will only be summarized here. Continuity of Care Guidelines can only offer a framework to facilitate transitions and plans which incorporate them must be adapted for each individual. They may provide a template for developing standards regarding transitions in specific circumstances throughout a service system.
Implementation of any set of guidelines is subject to the availability of resources. Community resources should be conceived of as an array of services and mutual supports which will operate as a unified system of care. If community resources are limited, the transition plan should make the most effective use of the resources that are available and reflect the most important priorities for the patient in question. Realistic determinations should be made on a case-by-case basis. Ideally, transitions between levels of care will be based on clear criteria such as those contained in the AACP's LOCUS or ASAM's PPC2. Only with an integrated, client driven, community based system of care will the ideal planning for level of care transitions be achieved. Principles for Transition of Care Between Levels of Service
Transition or discharge planning should begin at the time of admission to any level of care and should be a part of the treatment plan. Identification of transition needs and the coordination of services required to meet them will be most urgent at the most intense levels of care. Outcome Indicator
: Treatment plans, assessments and progress documentation will demonstrate activities relevant to issues likely to be encountered in anticipated transitions in treatment setting or providers.
Transition plans should include all aspects of an individual's service needs. These would typically include continuing treatment, supportive services such as case management or child care, residential stabilization, treatment of co-morbid health issues, realistic financial supports, and mutual support networking. In some cases interface with the legal system or child protection/family service agencies will be required. Outcome Indicator:
All aspects of a service user's needs, as identified in completed assessments, will be adequately addressed in the transition plan
Coordination of and collaboration between elements of the service system which are involved with the client on either side of the transition should occur as part of the treatment plan such that a sense of continuity is achieved while the transition evolves. Whenever possible, information regarding the most recent experience should be provided to the agency where the client will be continuing care. Appropriate incentives for providers are an essential consideration in efforts to achieve this objective. Outcome Indicator:
Significant communication and coordination between all involved service providers is evident through service user's experience and relevant documentation
Transitions, either upward or downward in the continuum of services, should incorporate relevant elements of any preexisting treatment plan. Treatment plans should be relevant to the entire course of an episode of illness/disability so that they can provide a degree of continuity in the context of change if properly elaborated and utilized. Outcome Indicator:
Treatment plans incorporate significant aspects of previous treatment plans and build on prior treatment initiatives.
5. Service User Participation:
Extensive participation of the service user in the formulation of transition planning is critical to success. Efforts should be made to elicit the service user's perspective on the specific difficulties they anticipate in making the transition and their preferences for services, and to address these issues in the elaboration of the plan. Outcome Indicator:
Documentation of the service user's perspective on the transition and his or her preferences for services is available.
6. Support System Involvement:
Client and family involvement in the elaboration of the discharge/transition plan is essential from the time of admission at any level of care. The degree of family involvement will generally be dictated by the client's and the family's willingness to engage in the process. Other persons providing support in the community should be included as well if a client indicates a desire for their participation. Outcome Indicator:
Significant members of the service user's support system are consulted in the formulation of the transition plan or an effort to obtain their participation is evident.
7. Service User Choice:
Transition/Discharge plans must reflect reality and address client needs in the most practical way possible. This will require recognition of the phase of illness and/or recovery of the client for which services are being planned. In many cases, clients may choose to leave treatment early or they may have had marginal investment in the service they are departing from. Regardless of the circumstances of their departure or the likelihood of their continuing in treatment, a comprehensive plan should be elaborated in a manner that is as inclusive of client wishes as possible. Outcome Indicator:
Service users will be offered comprehensive attention to their transition needs even when their choices do not coincide the service provider's.
8. Cultural Sensitivity:
Transitions should be managed in a culturally sensitive manner. Considering this in its broadest sense, an individual's beliefs, customs, and social context must be considered when making transitions upward (to more intensive levels of service) or downward (to less intensive levels of service). Outcome Indicator:
Cultural issues relevant to the transition of services are identified and adequately addressed in the transition plan
Discharge planning from highly structured settings to loosely structured settings should include comprehensive relapse prevention planning. Strategies to avoid re-initiating old, dysfunctional patterns of behavior should be identified, as well as available community supports and treatment programming. Financial supports should be arranged in such a manner as to avoid undue potential to misuse funds in detrimental ways. Outcome Indicator:
Factors contributing to exacerbation of illness or disability have been identified and transition plan has included attention to strategies to minimize their impact.
10. Resource Utilization:
The transition/discharge plan should be designed to maximize the resources available to the client for continuing care. This includes efforts to secure benefits for which the client is eligible with the active participation of the client. Planning should foster self-reliance while recognizing that significant support may be required in the early stages of recovery. Outcome Indicator:
Resources necessary for the support of the service user in the transition environment are identified and arrangements have been completed to meet those needs.
Whenever possible, transitions should take place gradually, titrated according to an individual's ability to adapt to changing roles and expectations. Outcome Indicator:
Opportunities to experience transition situations partially prior to termination of referring entities involvement are available and used.
12. Designation of Responsibility:
Systems should develop clear protocols delineating responsibility for care of clients in transition periods. In most cases responsibilities should incorporate redundancies between the referring and receiving entities. These concurrent responsibilities will be more likely to ensure a smooth transition and prevent some of the discontinuations commonly observed in systems that do not contain overlaps between levels of care. Reimbursement arrangements should incentivize processes that incorporate concurrent responsibilities where appropriate, for the following transition functions:
- Assuring the service user's awareness of location, time, and contact person for next scheduled treatment session
- Assuring that the service user has access to prescribed medication and that a sufficient quantity is available to allow uninterrupted use between physician contacts.
- Assuring that the service user is aware of the person(s) to contact should there be any difficulties with either obtaining or using medication during the transition period or with any other aspects of required services.
- Assuring that the service user can identify contact persons for arranging alterations in the original discharge plan should such changes become necessary.
- Assuring that the service user is aware of the tracking plan and the process that will be initiated to re-engage him/her should unplanned alterations in the plan occur.
Outcome Indicator: Contacts during transition period are clearly identified and service user was well informed and able to use specified arrangements.
13. Accountability: A mechanism for monitoring outcomes of transition plans and identifying opportunities to improve the process should be in place.
- Appropriate quality indicators should be established with realistic benchmarks that can be easily measured.
- A mechanism for establishing corrective action plans for systems unable to meet those expectations should be elaborated.
- Documentation should clearly indicate that all responsibilities delineated above occur and that they do so within appropriate time frames.
- Oversight of the quality management process should include all stakeholders in the system, including persons in recovery.
- Standards established should be incorporated into contracts with Managed Care Organizations to assure proper incentives in reimbursement.
Outcome Indicator: A quality improvement process is in place and is comprehensive.
14. Special Needs: Recognition of the needs of special populations and their incorporation into the transition plan is an essential element of the process. Specific guidelines have been elaborated for each of the populations considered below. The following points regarding transition planning for these populations are brief summaries of some of the unique aspects of this process for these people.
Confrontation of disparities between a substance user's wishes and his/her needs to maintain abstinence are critical. The distinction between engagement and enabling is frequently a fine one, and transition efforts must attempt to maximize the former while attempting to minimize the latter.
- Recognizing that co-occurring psychiatric and medical problems are expected to be present in this population, transition plans should be particularly vigilant in assuring that identified needs are met.
- Plans should emphasize fluidity in the treatment continuum and acknowledge the continuing availability of services at any required level of care should the initial transition attempt be unsuccessful. Awareness of an individual's readiness for change will guide the types of transitions that might be recommended.
- Confidentiality is given particular emphasis in this population due to the stigma associated with it. Careful consideration must be given to the transfer of information between substance use treatment providers and must be done with the full consent and knowledge of the service user.
- Family members are often involved in the dynamic that contributes to the maintenance of addictions and therefore their participation in the transition plan and continuing treatment is a critical priority whenever it is possible.
- Mutual support programs, such as the twelve steps, have traditionally been an important component of the recovery process and have played a crucial role in relapse prevention plans. Transition plans should always attempt to acknowledge and incorporate the tradition of mutual support, while emphasizing the rationale for concurrent treatment.
Involvement of the support system is an essential aspect of care. A primary caregiver should be identified and supported to the greatest extent possible by other service providers. Early establishment of this person as one who can make decisions in cases where the service user is unable to make informed choices is essential.
- The service user's participation in transition planning with vary according to cognitive capacities, but efforts must be made to assure that the elderly person is not assumed to have limited capacity when this is not so, and that their ability to make self determined choices are maximized by clear communication and cognitively appropriate education.
- Interface with providers of physical health care is particularly important for the elderly. It must be established early and attention to these needs must be well integrated in the transition plan.
- Assessment of needs in all spheres of function must be obtained in order to insure a comprehensive transition plan. Multi-agency cooperation and communication will often be necessary to meet multiple needs.
- Insurance status may be a significant issue for many elderly clients, particularly with regard to prescription medication, as Medicare does not currently have provisions to cover these expenses.
- Post release planning may be avoided altogether if efforts to divert persons with mental illness from incarceration are successful.
- Post release planning cannot occur if persons with mental illness and substance use problems are not identified and engaged in treatment during the period of their incarceration.
- Residential components of the plan will be of particular importance, particularly for those persons who are homeless. This part of the plan may well be the difference between recidivism and successful community adjustment, and liaisons with community based housing resources are essential.
- Establishment or resumption of health insurance benefits will be a critical element in the post release plan.
- Interface with probation and parole supervision is vital to reducing repetition of illegal behaviors in the future.
- Facilitation of transitions may be enhanced through opportunities for inmates to meet with community providers prior to release. This is more difficult in a highly secured setting, but developing this capacity can have significant benefits with regard to service use.
Child and Adolescent:
- Multi-agency involvement in the provision of C&A Services require mutual engagement throughout periods of treatment.
- Parental responsibility or guardianship/custody must be established as quickly as possible in the course of treatment, and those who will be responsible must be involved actively in the planning process. Extended family should be included as well, unless specifically prohibited.
- Developmental level and capabilities will determine the extent of the child's participation in the planning process, but efforts should be made to maximize their role.
- Families or other responsible parties will be responsible for engagement of the child with the receiving agencies, and it will be critical to address their concerns as well as allowing for opportunities for them to interface with community providers prior to transition.
- Integration of treatment needs and educational needs should be an important aspect of transition planning and schools and teachers must be part of the planning process.
- Transitions from adolescent to adult systems of care are particularly difficult and will require special vigilance and coordination to be successfully completed. Gradual, titrated transitions will usually be required.