2020 has been quite the year, especially for hospitals. Budgets have been cut and revenue is down for the vast majority of health systems due to the coronavirus pandemic. The last thing they needed was a penalty, but that happened to nearly half of all hospitals in the U.S.
Federal data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) notes that for the 2021 fiscal year, they are issuing fines to 2,545 hospitals for poor 30-day readmission rates for Medicare patients through the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP). This accounts for 83% of all hospitals evaluated using patient data from July 2016 to June 2019.
Previously, these rates were based on 30-day readmission rates for five conditions, but the list has since expanded to an additional procedure, coronary artery bypass graft surgery.
- Heart failure
- Heart attack
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Total hip or knee replacement
- Coronary artery bypass graft surgery
While fewer hospitals are receiving the maximum penalty and the program has made a positive impact on reducing admissions and improving health outcomes since it started in 2012, there are still hospitals having trouble reducing readmissions. When these penalties hurt a hospital’s bottom line when they need it most, providers are more than ready to reverse course.
The good news is there are options, some of which providers may not have taken yet. By combining some of these solutions, you could greatly reduce your readmission rates.
One of the best ways for a provider to make processes easier, less time-consuming and more beneficial is by implementing automated communications using a digital health platform. It helps patients stay on top of their appointments like surgery and post-op, but can also be used for other purposes including prescriptions.
Research shows that 26% of readmissions are medication related and preventable with over 23% of readmissions directly caused by medication non-adherence. If adding reminders for refilling prescriptions and taking medication cuts down that percentage even a little, that could be the difference between a patient’s condition improving or worsening. It may seem so obvious and simple to do, but automated reminders can go a long way to improving health outcomes and reducing readmissions without adding more work.
Importantly, automated communications maintain an ongoing relationship between patients and healthcare providers. Post-discharge education, tips and reminders provide value to patients while extending care beyond the walls of the institution, reinforcing and strengthening the hospital’s brand image.
Offer patients the resources they need to stay healthy during recovery. Provide materials for the patient and their caregiver on next steps including their care plan, when to take medications, diet and lifestyle restrictions, any symptoms to watch for post-surgery, who to contact with any questions and information about their condition.
The period immediately following a procedure can be overwhelming or even scary for the patient, so giving them a large set of educational materials once they wake up is not the most effective approach. However, providing manageable amounts of information before discharge and following up with more post-discharge via a digital health platform can make it digestible.
A “one size fits all” approach will not work across different patients. Some patients may need education in bite-size chunks while others, such as the PatientBond psychographic segments known as Self Achievers and Balance Seekers, crave information and will happily read as much as you give them. Note, information and education is a critical component for a successful recovery, but it isn’t sufficient. If patients aren’t motivated to act on that education, it’s all for naught. Psychographic insights help frame educational messaging in a way that activates patient behavior to improve health outcomes.
PatientBond has achieved significant success reducing hospital readmissions as much as 90% by incorporating a proven psychographic model in its automated patient engagement
Not every patient is going to keep you updated on their condition or stay on top of their care plan. Our previous statistic on medication adherence is a prime example of that. On the other hand, calling every patient individually is costly and takes an exorbitant amount of time. While some patients may still want this approach based on their psychographic profile, not all patients prefer it.
Instead, try other forms of patient follow-up that are less time consuming and efficient. Send automated messages through a digital health platform that can be sent by the provider or through their doctor. Or if they prefer, send these messages via email or text. In these messages, you can also include a patient survey where they can provide feedback on how you’re doing and information on their recovery.
Virtual Post-Op Appointments
In a cleanliness-conscious environment, it doesn’t hurt to change the way we do appointments. There will still be instances where patients need to come in to get checked by their doctor for a post-op, but if it isn’t needed, virtual appointments are a great solution. It gives patients the convenience of staying home and frees up resources for staff to meet with more critical patients.
This approach is dependent on each healthcare consumer’s condition, but that is another reason why patient follow-up is a great tool to use in collaboration with this method. The future of healthcare is a decreased reliance on in-person appointments, so why shouldn’t many post-ops operate the same way?
Home Health Assistance
Many of the approaches we’ve shared are digital, and home health care is no exception. With the increase in telehealth services and the common use of at-home medical devices, it’s easy to shift home health care services into a mix of at-home and virtual care.
If you’re not offering home health services, it’s important to add them to your offerings for patients and to include virtual home health options to adapt to the current pandemic. It brings peace of mind to patients, keeps patients and home healthcare workers safe by having less in-person appointments and saves time for staff members who continue to be in high demand. It also adds another level of service that healthcare consumers will notice and may ultimately choose you as a provider over others because of its appeal.
It is possible to improve readmissions using a combination or all of these solutions. Providers can save time and money in the long run by reducing unnecessary expenses and work hours while also improving the health outcomes of patients. In the end, it’s a no-brainer.