The United States has a bounty of hospitals, healthcare systems, teaching institutions and urgent care networks. But despite having the most expansive and expensive healthcare system, the United States ranks last overall among 11 countries on measures of health system equity, access, administrative efficiency, care delivery and healthcare outcomes, according to a recent Commonwealth Fund study.
If that isn’t enough cause for pause, consider cost. The U.S. has the highest costs and lowest overall performance of the nations in the Commonwealth Fund study. The U.S. spent $9,364 per person on health care in 2016, compared to $4,094 in the U.K., which ranked first on performance overall.
All the inefficiencies and bloated bureaucracy in the U.S. health system is the bad stuff. The good stuff is the tremendous, first-class, world-class talent and innovation in the U.S. healthcare system. No one argues that.
Moreover, the U.S. spends more on premature baby and end-of-life care than other countries, too. There are always trade-offs in cost-effectiveness considerations (and benefits a society is willing to give up), but few would argue there isn’t some fat that can be trimmed from the U.S. health system.
So, how can hospitals and health systems in the United States close the cost gap, begin climbing out of the statistical cellar and respond to these reports of underperforming health outcomes?
New digital platforms can help cut through the inefficiencies and connect patients with key sectors of the system on an ongoing basis. Hospitals and health systems can automate, personalize and streamline communications at every step of the health care journey. The nexus of quality care and value can produce an increase in positive healthcare outcomes.
Let’s take a closer look at how that can be done:
1. Centralize Care Communications
You may be surprised in today’s digital age how many hospitals still use compartmentalized, antiquated data storage and communications systems when it comes to patient care.
Let’s say that Frank goes to see a podiatrist one week for some pain in his big toe. A month later, he goes to see his cardiologist for shortness of breath. Are the two health incidents related? Probably not, but a treating specialist should have all the pieces of a person’s health care puzzle available to them while still balancing patient privacy requests.
An integrated Electronic Health Record, accessible by providers across the health system with visibility to all of Frank’s history, will help all treating doctors give the best care. More and more systems are becoming available that allow for patient-centric sharing of information with physicians.
2. Remember the People Behind the Scrubs
Doctors and nurses save lives, but they also have lives, and hospitals could get a big return by investing a little in them. Multiple studies have shown a correlation between positive and supportive work environments and better patient care.
So take good care of your staff. Plan nurses’ appreciation picnics. Make sure everyone from the custodians to the neurosurgeons get to mix and mingle with one another in hospital-sponsored wellness activities like a field day for adults. It’ll get your team out of the sometimes pressure-cooker walls of the hospital. That’s good for morale and good for the hospital.
Make sure vacation time and flex time and family time are a seamless part of the package that makes working at your hospital so wonderful. Unscheduled absenteeism costs hospitals $760,000 a year in direct payroll costs, so cushion the blow. You’ll build morale, loyalty and your bottom line — and improve outcomes for your patients.
3. Use Health IT to Improve Health Outcomes
There is an emerging class of digital platforms, including PatientBond, that are designed to better engage patients before, during and after treatment to motivate healthy behaviors and facilitate recovery. Think of these platforms as “digital docents” that guide patients seamlessly through every aspect of their health journey, integrating proactive wellness decisions into their daily lives.
“Given the difficulties faced by low income and medically underserved communities in accessing healthcare services, the use of IT tools may improve their access to health information in ways that could enhance patient knowledge and self-management, and perhaps positively impact health outcomes. “
Such digital platforms are especially important for hospitals and health systems with relatively poor health outcomes among medically underserved populations. The National Institute of Health conducted a study to determine whether health IT could provide an effective communications gateway to a pool of patients at an urban health care clinic with a majority Latino client base. Ninety-two percent of the patients owned a cell phone and almost half of them used the cell phone to make health decisions.
The study’s conclusion was firm: “Given the difficulties faced by low income and medically underserved communities in accessing healthcare services, the use of IT tools may improve their access to health information in ways that could enhance patient knowledge and self-management, and perhaps positively impact health outcomes. “
Interestingly, the study shows that while the vast majority of patients own cell phones, only “a small proportion of safety net clinics are using cell phones in patient care. Most of the clinics that responded to their survey indicated they use cell phones to provide information (such as appointment or immunization reminders), as opposed to facilitating patient engagement. The most common limitations to providing cell phone-based services to patients were limited funding and lack of human and IT resources.”
Patient Engagement Solutions
And that’s where cloud-based digital platforms like PatientBond come in — by using a pre-existing IT infrastructure to economically and efficiently engage patients and promote healthy behaviors, without having to make a new investment in hardware or software.
Not all patient engagement platforms are the same, however. Only PatientBond uses a proprietary psychographic segmentation model to customize automated communications based on patients’ individual motivations and channel preferences, such as email, text messages and Interactive Voice Response (IVR).
Thanks to this model, the “nuts and bolts” of wellness — the appointments, the medications, the health screenings — can become as much a part of life as brushing one’s teeth or blowing one’s nose.
- 500% improvement in response rates for breast and cervical cancer screening
- 43% improvement in appointment show rates
- 22% reduction in missed appointments among Medicaid, Hispanic and rural patients
- 25% increase in treatment completion involving multiple visits
- 90% reduction in 30-day hospital readmissions for Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)
These are just a few of the ways that hospitals can create better health outcomes and, in the process, create better financial ones. What steps will your hospital or health system take?