Transitional Care in a Nursing Home

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Background: Each year, 2 million older Americans complete three to four week courses of post-acute care in nursing homes and return home; however, scant research describes services to protect older adults during their transitions from nursing homes to home. In hospital-based studies, transitional care interventions were associated with improved health outcomes for older adults, but these interventions added new staff positions, which are likely cost-prohibitive in nursing homes. Further, no prior study explored transitional care provided for vulnerable, post-acute care patients in nursing homes. Thus, this dissertation was designed to develop new understandings about transitional care provided by existing staff members in nursing homes. The study has two specific aims: (a) describe transitional care and outcomes for older adults who obtain post-acute care in nursing homes from the day of admission through discharge; (b) explore the influence of interactions, among selected older adult patients and their group of nursing home caregivers, on their ability to accomplish transitional care processes.

Method: Using data from a literature review and theoretical models, including Donabedian's Model of Healthcare Quality and Anderson's Local Interaction Model, a conceptual model of transitional care for post-acute care patients in nursing homes was constructed. The conceptual model was then used to guide exploration of the research aims with a longitudinal, multiple case study of transitional care in a nursing home. The unit of analysis was the patient care-team, defined as individual post-acute care patients, family caregivers, and 6 to 8 professional staff in each team (e.g., rehabilitation therapists, physicians, nurses and social workers). Three patient care-team members were purposively sampled for study. Moreover, longitudinal data were collected using repeated interviews and observations with patients, family caregivers, and staff; document and daily chart reviews; and surveys of patient preparedness for discharge. Manifest content analysis and thematic analysis (qualitative methods) were used to conduct within- and across-case analyses of trajectories of transitional care and to identify strengths, gaps and inconsistencies in care.

Results: Findings related to the first research aim include a description of transitional care in the study nursing home. Serious gaps and inconsistencies in transitional care exposed older, post-acute care patients to risks for complications in their transitions from the study nursing home to home: (a) systemic supports were not available to support nursing home staff who provided transitional care; further, nursing home staff and leadership were unaware that they provided transitional care; (b) care processes were not in place to prepare older adults and their caregivers to continue care at home; (c) care-team interactions often excluded family members; and (d) post-acute care patients left the nursing home without resources needed to support safe transitions in care, including transitional care plans, education to appropriately respond to acute changes in health, written materials to guide care at home, referrals for medical follow-up after discharge, and transfers of clinical information to primary care physicians.

Findings related to the second research aim include a description of local interaction strategies and the effectiveness of transitional care processes. When professional staff more consistently used local interaction strategies, specified in the model, care-team members exhibited greater capacity for connections, information exchange, and cognitive diversity. Further, when care-team interactions were of high quality and sufficient frequency, there were multiple indications of more effective transitional care, such as patient engagement in care, inclusion of patient priorities in care plans, and problem solving which included family members and diverse members of the patient care-team. Thus, local interaction strategies were essential staff behaviors needed to adapt care processes to the specific transitional care needs of individual patients.

Because transitional care is a grossly under-developed care process in nursing homes, these findings will likely have immediate implications for practice and research. Findings will provide nursing home administrators and staff with resources to develop and evaluate care in nursing homes; further, the findings will help to create targets for protocol and care process development to strengthen existing practice and address deficiencies. Findings will provide researchers with resources for studying transitional care in diverse samples of nursing homes, which should facilitate development of testable hypotheses for needed intervention studies. In addition, the local interaction strategies findings in the study may generalize to other settings of care, where interdependent staff work is required to establish connections, information networks, and to coordinate care among multiple staff members.






Toles, Mark Pettiss (2011). Transitional Care in a Nursing Home. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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