Why Communication Is the Key to Lower Readmission Rates — and How Tech Can Help

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By Geoff Gross

Patient hospital readmissions happen for many different reasons, some of which can’t be helped. Many, however, can be avoided — and when they’re not, patients aren’t the only ones who incur costs. High readmission rates are expensive for hospitals and healthcare facilities, too.

Readmission levels beyond an expected rate have cost healthcare companies billions of dollars in Medicare fines alone under the Hospital Readmissions and Reductions Program. This doesn’t even factor in unpaid bills and lost time — something most hospitals are already short on.

Among the variables that hospitals and healthcare facilities can control is communication, which is no small thing when you consider that poor communication is one of the biggest contributors to excessive readmission rates. According to a University of Calgary study, patients who aren’t involved in their own care before discharge are 34% more likely to be readmitted, and those who don’t receive written instructions at discharge are 24% more likely to do so. 

Similarly, research at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center shows that not involving caregivers in discharge instructions increases the likelihood of patient readmission as well. Across the U.S., unclear communication accounts for 27% of avoidable readmissions each year, according to a 2016 study.

In other words, patients who don’t know what’s going on with their own condition and don’t understand what to do after they leave the hospital are more likely to return, and this is more common than it should be. Luckily, this type of readmission is preventable, as long as those in charge are willing to change the way their hospitals approach patient and caregiver communication.

How the healthcare industry can use tech to improve communication

Communication is one of the most powerful tools we have to reduce readmission rates. Something as simple as creating and reviewing care plans with patients prior to discharge can help them feel more confident in their recovery and aid in preventing readmission.

Efficient communication isn’t just a matter of giving out instructions before a patient leaves a hospital. Hospital executives who are serious about reducing readmission rates need to start thinking about how to improve ongoing communication with patients and caregivers. Luckily, technology can make the process a lot easier for hospital staff, patients, and caregivers alike. Here are three places to start:

1. Targeted communication through digital tools

First and foremost, staff should focus on finding the most accessible means of education and communication for patients post-discharge. One startup, Quil Health, is doing an excellent job of this. Its founding investors, Independence Health Group and Comcast NBCUniversal, have created a digital health tool to educate patients and their support teams when patients leave the hospital. Quil provides specifically targeted rehab, exercise, and health maintenance videos on whatever digital device is most accessible for the patient.

Once care teams determine the most convenient way for patients to access targeted, helpful material, other digital tools can be implemented for even further efficiency and ease of communication.

2. Augmented and virtual reality

AR and VR are technologies that can bring to life abstract subjects that are often hard to truly comprehend through words alone. They can be used to show, in detail, how certain treatments or medications interact within a patient’s body and make crystal clear how a patient’s medication is going to help improve or maintain a newly diagnosed condition.

This enhanced experience can better provide patients with peace of mind during a transitional time while also helping them understand the importance of prescription adherence.

3. Mobile applications

Apps that are specifically designed for patient education and direct communication with healthcare providers can be game-changers. An effective app creates a streamlined platform for secure information exchange, encouraging an open dialogue before and after a patient’s discharge. This communication throughout the recovery process encourages the implementation of care plans and reduces a patient’s risk for readmission. Access to remote care through an app will also reduce ER wait times and save hospitals both time and money.

In theory, clearer communication is a simple goal — but it’s not as easy to implement in practice. The right tools and processes, however, can make patient touchpoints much more streamlined and effective. Better communication can lead to lower readmission rates — resulting in significant savings for your hospital.

Geoff Gross is the founder and CEO of Medical Guardian, a leading provider of personal emergency response and connected care solutions. He has 14 years of experience in the personal emergency response systems industry.

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