In the years that have followed the passage of The Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, healthcare providers continue to pursue new ways to reduce patient readmissions. There’s a good reason for that: not only do patients benefit from these efforts but providers that maintain industry-standard readmission rates for certain illnesses avoid the often stiff penalties the ACA metes out to those that don’t. In 2017, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) penalized over 2,500 hospitals more than $564 million for excessive hospital readmissions.
Even without government penalties, readmitting patients is expensive. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) reported that patients readmitted within 30 days of discharge cost hospitals $41.3 billion yearly.
Hospitals aren’t the only organizations affected financially by readmissions, though. They cost Medicare about $26 billion annually, with about $17 billion spent on avoidable hospital trips after discharge, according to the Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA). These readmissions aren’t just costing Medicare money, either. AHRQ research shows that readmissions of privately insured and Medicaid beneficiaries costs $8.1 billion and $7.6 billion, respectively.
Reducing hospital readmission rates has multiple advantages, ranging from financial savings to future business growth—and perhaps most importantly, ensuring patients receive adequate care in the first place. As we mentioned above, reducing hospital readmissions helps healthcare organizations avoid fines from the government. Not only do those fines affect the bottom line, but they reflect poorly on hospitals.
To successfully reduce readmission rates, hospitals must examine the reasons why readmissions occur in the first place. Many factors can contribute to a patient’s unnecessary readmission: receiving inadequate follow-up care, being discharged to an ill-equipped location (including a nursing facility or the patient’s own home), or misunderstanding post-discharge aftercare instructions. What do all these factors have in common? Each is the result of poor communication.
Superior patient care relies on tightly coordinated communications and collaboration—between patients, staff, doctors, administrators, third parties, and more. Unfortunately, many providers approach communications and collaboration technology in a piecemeal fashion—perhaps an on-premises-based phone system, a separate app for messaging, and another for online meetings. In addition, many hospital staff need to use multiple communication devices to maintain privacy standards for patient communications. These siloed communication modes, however, stifle the type of coordination necessary to make decisions that help reduce readmissions.
In recent years, communications and collaboration technology has evolved to help meet the specific needs of healthcare providers. In particular, cloud technologies not only dramatically reduce communication costs for healthcare providers but have also opened access to innovations that streamline healthcare workflows and significantly impact readmission rates. In particular, cloud-based communications and collaboration solutions have emerged that combine multiple modes of communication (voice, video meetings, team messaging, and even contact center technologies) in a single, integrated platform. These integrated solutions enable patients to communicate with their providers on any device they want, anywhere they want, at any time, making it easier to share and receive important healthcare information.
Healthcare communications platforms can help reduce hospital readmissions in three ways:
Poor patient compliance with post-discharge instructions, a leading cause of hospital readmissions, often occurs due to a lack of patient engagement.
Patient engagement encompasses a combination of a patient’s knowledge, ability, and willingness to take care of themselves, as well as interventions that promote positive patient behavior, such as exercise and preventive care. When patients engage in their own healthcare plan, they’re more likely to take better care of themselves and stay out of the hospital.
A comprehensive healthcare cloud communications platform makes it easy for a patient to reach someone live (in either an office setting or contact center), and makes scheduling, pre-procedure steps, and post-discharge follow-up an effortless experience. Enhancing patient portals with live chat results in immediate answers to follow-up treatment or medication questions, improving patient outcomes and engagement and reducing the likelihood of hospital readmission.
When providers work together as a multidisciplinary team, they provide better care to patients. Research from the School of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University shows that coordinated care decreases total health care costs by 11 percent, with an average net annual savings of $1,364 per patient for health insurers. In addition, coordinated care reduces hospital readmissions; a study at a hospital in Massachusetts saw a considerable drop in readmissions after launching a coordinated care program.
A comprehensive healthcare cloud communications platform allows providers to coordinate care securely and effectively. It offers capabilities such as team messaging, video conferencing, and screen-sharing. Consider the following example: A nurse for a patient preparing for discharge after a heart attack holds a video conference call between the patient’s cardiologist and primary care physician. During the call, the practitioners share information that enables the patient’s care team to develop a comprehensive discharge plan that ensures the patient receives the proper care and education to follow post-discharge instructions, thereby reducing the likelihood of hospital readmissions.
Poor aftercare is another principal cause of hospital readmissions. Timely follow-up care, on the other hand, can help reduce avoidable hospital readmissions. A study published in 2015 showed that patients with multiple chronic conditions who received follow-up care within a week of being discharged saw “significant” reductions in hospital readmissions. Those patients were otherwise at a 20 percent greater risk of being readmitted to the hospital. Once more, a healthcare cloud communications and collaboration platform plays an essential role in lowering readmission risks.
Consider another example: A patient has a question about his post-discharge medication. Instead of readmitting, he calls the Patient Care Navigator number and connects with an outpatient call center agent. That agent sends a text message to the doctor, who then answers the patient’s question.
Here’s yet another potential scenario in which a healthcare cloud communications platform helps reduce unnecessary hospital readmissions: Recovering at home after orthopedic surgery, a patient has a question about post-discharge exercises. She logs in to a secure patient portal and launches a live chat with the physiotherapist, who provides an immediate answer to the patient. Real-time connection enables faster recovery.
Reducing hospital admissions is a top priority for hospitals trying to improve patient outcomes while also controlling costs. When you have the right tools in place, both goals are easier to achieve. A comprehensive healthcare cloud communications platform helps lower hospital readmission rates by increasing patient engagement, boosting care coordination between providers, and enhancing follow-up care. See how cloud communications can transform your healthcare organization. Request a demo today.