By Geoff Gross, founder and CEO, Medical Guardian.
The Hospital Re-admissions Reduction Program took effect in 2012 with the goal of sustainably lowering hospital re-admission rates. Since then, the program has levied nearly $2 billion in penalties (in the form of reduced Medicare payouts) for hospitals with high re-admission rates.The intentions behind the program were good, but it hasn’t played out quite as expected — a 2019 study determined there was no significant change in re-admission rates of heart-failure patients since the implementation of HRRP.
The program also impacts safety-net hospitals more acutely because they serve all patients regardless of insurance status; their patient populations are generally older, sicker, and bring in less income.
A better solution to the re-admission problem might be for healthcare providers to focus more on educating patients — both on preventive care and aftercare — and shoring up these efforts through technological innovations that make education and awareness accessible to all.
How Tech-Enabled Communication Can Lower Re-admission Rates
Truly improving patient outcomes and decreasing re-admission rates is about more than just treatment. In fact, discharge is a critical point in a patient’s recovery as well. Without proper education on aftercare, patients are likely to end up back in the hospital without a better understanding of their current health or how they can improve it.
If healthcare providers can find more effective methods of patient education and communication, they can actively change the course of a patient’s future. Healthcare providers must do more than send out a pamphlet or quickly run through home care at the end of a doctor’s visit.
In an ideal world, all patients understand their conditions, know how to treat their symptoms, and can help prevent re-admission. In reality, however, only 12% of American patients are proficient in health literacy. This means the majority of people are either misinformed or completely uninformed about their health conditions and treatment plans.
Search engines haven’t helped matters, either. Another study determined that Googling symptoms not only stresses people out, but also causes them to misdiagnose themselves. When it comes to patient education, healthcare providers need to take the reins if they’re serious about long-term wellness. Otherwise, misinformation and anxiety will rule the day.
Clear, open communication between providers and patients is vital, but it’s often underappreciated and underutilized. In fact, data from the University of California, San Francisco suggests that a lack of communication can lead to preventable hospital re-admissions. By opening communication pathways, patients feel comfortable voicing concerns — this is especially important, as 40% of discharged patients leave with pending test results. With streamlined communication, providers are better able to prevent early discharges and offer patients the help they need as they transition from the hospital back to their homes.
Of course, opening lines of communication is easier said than done. Patients aren’t always willing to share personal details, and hospital staff members are often strapped for time. This is where technology comes in. Innovations in technology not only facilitate communication, but also provide data that healthcare professionals can use to create effective discharge plans and lower chances of re-admission.
Here are four emerging technologies the healthcare industry can harness to reduce re-admissions:
- Marketing Automation
Much of the same technology used to market to consumers can also ensure that patients take proper care of themselves. This is because marketing automation can connect patients with valuable recovery resources.
Health systems can use automation to provide condition-specific care instructions and prevention guides, all by leveraging behavioral triggers. They can also send post-discharge surveys to gauge the patient’s in-hospital experience as well as their condition at home. Healthcare providers can examine this information to improve the hospital experience and proactively prevent re-admissions.
- Healthcare Internet of Things
IoT has enormous potential to improve the healthcare industry — and that includes reducing re-admission rates. By using healthcare devices to collect and securely share patient data in real time, providers can alleviate time-consuming administrative tasks and reduce human error.
IoT devices can track a patient’s condition in real time. As a result, these devices can help healthcare professionals create more specialized prevention plans. Medical alert systems and apps that track patients’ vital signs offer potentially lifesaving information and can help physicians practice prevention outside of the hospital.
- Artificial Intelligence
Because AI can be instrumental in a patient’s recovery, it’s becoming increasingly common in the operating room. AI-enabled robots now assist with a variety of complicated procedures (such as cardiac surgery). It also helps reduce errors and other surgery-related risks while decreasing the size of incisions, which significantly shortens recovery time. With its continued improvements, AI is likely to play a major role in reducing re-admissions.
- Virtual Reality
The benefits of VR go well beyond recreational gaming. For example, VR can help create distractions during painful procedures and rehabilitation practices. This use case might seem small, but it certainly improves the hospital experience and decreases patient discomfort.
Medical trainers and patient educators can also employ VR to improve understanding around certain procedures and recovery plans. Training in VR is low stakes, but it still offers the hands-on learning students need. For example, Osso VR allows medical students to perform a variety of surgical procedures without having to step foot inside an operating room. Of course, this can prevent errors that land patients back in the hospital.
HRRP aims to help patients and hospitals in the long run, but reducing re-admission isn’t simply a numbers game. Instead, it should represent an opportunity to find new ways to educate patients and professionals alike. By embracing new technologies and moving away from the punitive nature of HRRP, the healthcare industry can progress into a brighter, healthier future.