How Voice Technology Fosters Personal Patient Connections At Scale

By Shara Cohen, vice president of customer experience, Clinical Effectiveness, Wolters Kluwer, Health.

Hospitals and health systems are under enormous pressure to provide high quality care in an environment of declining reimbursements and shifting payment models. With the rise in value-based payments, provider organizations must increasingly focus on the health and performance metrics across whole populations.

Shara Cohen

To provide patient-centered care and remain financially viable, providers need to adopt technologies that expand the reach and targeting of their care teams and enable them to forge personal connections with patients. Many provider organizations have been slow to adopt technology for fear of de-personalizing the patient relationship. Yet technological solutions designed for people and their specific, pressing needs can be incredibly effective.

Take Interactive Voice Response calls (IVR), for example. These automated calls can extend the reach of care teams who need to find out from patients how they’re progressing in their recovery. Even better, these calls give patients a chance to check in with caregivers using the most natural, familiar technology there is: the telephone and the human voice. From pre-procedure to post-discharge, here are three ways voice technology can reduce costs while achieving better outcomes:

1. Staying Connected with Patients after Discharge

Discharge is one of the most critical handoffs in healthcare. Traditionally hospitals have employed nurses to make phone calls to recently discharged patients. But what may seem like a simple chat is in fact far more labor intensive. The volume of calls required, and the time needed to connect with patients, establish rapport and elicit critical information has made this an expensive and time-consuming endeavor. IVR calls can reduce the burden on nursing staff while also increasing the level of constructive interaction with patients.

For example, our team worked with a hospital that used two nurses to call as many patients post-discharge as they could. In a one-month period the nurses made 1,932 calls to patients – and of those calls, only 5.2% resulted in a situation that actually required the nurses’ clinical knowledge. The two nurses then started over, this time using IVR. During a same one-month period, the nurses were able to reach out to four times as many patients and connected with 79.8%. The higher rate of connection gave the hospital far more visibility into the actual health status of its discharged patients. It also saved time so nurses could concentrate on personal patient interventions that required their clinical expertise and training.

2. Breaking Down Behavioral Barriers

Voice User Interface (VUI) design is increasingly utilized to foster emotional connections with patients and help them self-manage their conditions. As hospitals and providers look to reduce “white coat syndrome,” and find ways for patients to feel more comfortable sharing information in a non-judgmental setting, human-centered VUI design can bring a unique approach to personalization.

For instance, one of our programs reached out to patients newly diagnosed with diabetes. With focus on empathic VUI design, these patients were asked to report on key indicators such as their weight fluctuation, medications, and access to follow-up care.  Flagging logic then signaled any instance when a patient may need a live nurse or some other intervention. Surprisingly, these automated calls also elicited sensitive information that may have otherwise not been flagged.

Most enrollees said depression had hindered their ability to manage their condition and 83% also said they had not discussed these issues with a healthcare professional. When given the choice, over half of those respondents opted for additional phone calls that were specifically designed to offer emotional support. Even more, the depression scores of nearly three-quarters of patients decreased over the course of their interactions.

3. Reducing Readmissions

As a last example, patients who engage with IVR phone calls are less likely to be readmitted to the hospital.  At one major hospital system, 80% of enrolled patients engaged with calls and they were readmitted less often than those who did not engage. (10.7% 30-day readmission rate vs. 13%.) This result means that voice technology is helping to solve a known and important health quality problem —reducing the rate of  unnecessary readmissions—as well as helping hospitals to avoid Medicare penalties. In addition, the decreased readmissions rate frees up beds for new revenue-generating patient admissions.

And the nurse caregivers are now able to work at the top of their license, increasing their job satisfaction as well as their efficiency. In the end, it’s not just caregiver satisfaction and patient outcomes that improve. Patients also appreciate the follow up from these calls, leading to increased patient satisfaction and HCAHP scores.

Ultimately, scaling patient outreach efforts with interactive voice technology offers a number of benefits for health systems: from more efficient and effective care management to better patient outcomes at less cost. That’s a win-win for providers and patients alike.

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