What is a continuum of care facility? Are we talking about nursing homes or assisted living, or is there another kind of facility included in the term? The answer to the last question is yes, there are other types of facilities that fall under this designation, but the ones we usually think of are nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Any discussion of the subject, though, must begin with the definition of continuum of care.

What is Continuum of Care?

Continuum of care guides and directs patients over time through a comprehensive array of health services spanning all levels and intensity of care, according to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. In other words, that care might begin when someone is born and end with supportive services to the family when he dies. There must be a continuing health need that is being monitored, of course, but the transition of care levels from basic early intervention to skilled nursing care and all intermediate interventions comprises continuum of care. The patient is not necessarily elderly and infirm; people with diabetes or multiple sclerosis fall into this designation as well.

What is a Continuum of Care Facility?

The term might include a substance abuse organization, a physical rehabilitation hospital or other facilities including nursing homes and assisted living. In reference to long-term care, you might consider senior housing communities. Usually, there are four levels of care in these communities: independent living, assisted living, nursing home and skilled nursing. As people age, they may deal with issues commonly associated with aging, and so anticipated in these facilities, and with acute onset or new issues that must be addressed in the patient care. A senior residing in the independent living apartments or homes may be unable to perform strenuous yard care, but otherwise is able to care for himself and his environment. With time, he may experience various issues such as memory loss that necessitate someone helping with the daily life activities. At that point he might transition to assisted living, or remain in his apartment, but receive help with medications and other things through a visiting nurse. Eventually, the patient may transition into the skilled nursing care. All along the way there is a team of caregivers who communicate with one another, with medical facilities and with the patient and his family to ensure the transition is smooth and all issues are addressed.

That team approach allows a holistic and thorough approach to health care over time. Information from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality states that continuum of care can reduce the readmission rate for elders, improve the quality of life for patients and reduce the per-patient cost by 37 per cent per year.

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Continuum of care makes sense to keep patients well when they struggle against a chronic debility and to address their health needs over time regardless of where they move geographically. Whether it is a nursing home or a rehabilitation facility, the idea of monitoring a patient's transitioning healthcare needs and communicating them to all service providers ensures that each patient will be regarded as a person with a history, not a case number. A continuum of care facility is really a concept, not a building.