Making Hospital Discharge More Patient Friendly

Updated on January 29, 2021

In recent years, improving the patient experience has been a prime focus for many healthcare organizations. Not only is this necessary to boost HCAHPS scores, perform well on MACRA metrics and meet other regulatory requirements, it is also essential when trying to expand market share, preserve patient loyalty and respond to growing consumerism. As individuals take on more financial responsibility for their care, they are becoming increasingly selective about where they receive services. They are looking for a quality experience that keeps their wants and needs at the forefront.

Discharge: a potential improvement opportunity

One area that could benefit from a more consumer-centric approach is the discharge process, especially for patients who must go to a post-acute setting to continue their recovery. Historically, hospital discharge planners have given patients a list of possible post-acute organizations and asked them to quickly choose where to go next. Patients and families frequently are unable to adequately research whether a potential facility is a good fit. They don’t have the time to explore the assorted options, and in many cases, they are given less information on which to base this decision then someone who is searching for a hotel for an upcoming vacation. This can cause unneeded stress on both a patient and their family, as they can easily become overwhelmed with the process, unsure of their decision. If they want to research any further, they are left to their own devices. This can result in delays while the patient and family try to figure out next steps—not to mention poor patient satisfaction and risky transitions if the patient does not select the most appropriate facility.

Given the fact that a patient’s long-term health outcomes can depend on the quality of the post-acute care he or she receives, it is easy to see why rethinking this process is critical. Moreover, the discharge experience is one of the last interactions a patient will have with the hospital. If it goes poorly, that can leave a negative long-lasting impression.

Designing for the patient

By considering the patient’s needs first and foremost, organizations can reimagine their discharge efforts. This may involve starting discharge planning sooner, providing a targeted list of possible facilities and serving as a resource for decision making.

Begin right away. Physicians and nurses often know at the start of a patient’s care episode whether he or she will require post-acute services. As such, they can begin preparing for discharge sooner. This could mean setting the stage with the patient and family so they know they will have to make a choice about a post-acute facility. It also could involve some upfront communication with care coordinators and discharge planners, so they can launch the planning process earlier. By starting the process sooner rather than later, organizations can allow more time for information gathering and decision-making.

Offer a focused list. Although giving the patient and family a generic list of providers has been the status quo, there is a better way. Hospitals and health systems can leverage technology to ensure every organization on the list is qualified and available to receive the patient. As the discharge date comes closer, care managers or discharge planners can enter details about a patient’s clinical needs and personal preferences into care coordination software that simultaneously transmits referral requests to several potential providers, including skilled nursing facilities, rehabilitation hospitals, home health agencies or other post-acute organizations. Those facilities that can accept the patient can respond electronically, often times within less than 30 minutes of receiving the patient’s information. This lets the discharge planner present the patient and family with a qualified list of vetted options.

Serve as a resource for decision-making. To further assist patients and families, organizations can use care coordination solutions to share information about the various facilities. Using a tablet or other mobile device, discharge planners and care coordinators can share multimedia presentations about each facility right at the bedside. Patients and families can use these tools to compare features, assess quality ratings, look at customer reviews and so on. In a relatively short time, they can get a better sense of which location would be the best choice for them. Patients and families can even make the decision without having to drive all over town visiting the different options. As top selections are ranked, the technology can automatically record the activity to verify the patient’s participation in post-acute care decision-making—allowing for better regulatory compliance for the organization.

A smoother process can mean a happier patient

Leaving the hospital and moving to the next care setting can be a stressful time for patients and their families. Hospitals and health systems that retool their discharge efforts can ease some of the stress while still ensuring the individual is matched with the most appropriate post-acute provider. As post -acute care organizations become more of a resource—doing some of the legwork and offering detailed information—they can help the patient and family feel more supported and at ease. Not only can this improve long-term health outcomes, it can also enhance patient satisfaction and in turn foster continued loyalty.

Mary Kay Thalken is chief clinical officer at Ensocare.