By Lee Horner, CEO, Synzi.
Clinician-to-patient communications are typically anchored by in-person, at-home visits. Home health agencies may struggle with understanding the benefits of technology adoption and how it will “work with” traditional check-ins. The downside of not implementing a communication platform unfortunately weakens an agency’s positioning and performance amongst patients, family caregivers, and referral sources. Without being able to safely communicate with patients via HIPAA-compliant messaging, home health agencies may negatively impact their ability to:
- Address patients’ questions and issues in a timelier manner
- Drive deeper patient engagement on a day-to-day basis
- Motivate adherence to the treatment plan and lower the risk of rehospitalization
- Earn recognition as being an innovative and patient-centric partner in their community
- Increase referrals from hospitals, SNFs, and physicians
Introducing technology into the communications between home health agency staff and patients may be seen as a potential interference to building and sustaining meaningful clinician-patient relationships. However, the use of technology – specifically a communications platform – allows nurses to more effectively perform their clinical responsibilities and more efficiently keep patients engaged in their own care. The benefits of using technology to strengthen communications are many.
- Engaged patients are more invested in their outcomes: Patients who are engaged in their care are more aware of their day-to-day changes in their condition and more likely to ask their clinician questions if there are emerging concerns and issues. Using a communication platform to reach out to a home health clinician can mitigate trips to the ER and keep a patient on track with the appropriate steps in their care.
- Engaged patients are more satisfied with their care. With easy access to their clinicians before/after scheduled appointments, patients are more satisfied as they are less anxious about accessing care if/when there is an immediate need. Family caregivers also appreciate the access to expert care afterhours and on the weekends. As a result, the family member and/or the patient is more apt to first contact their home health clinician team instead of immediately (and almost instinctively) heading to the ER.
- Engaged patients are boosting your bottom line. As the PDGM model is realized in 2020, agencies are more concerned with delivering care that is patient-centric yet cost-contained. To minimize penalties and maximize outcomes, referral sources are prioritizing home health agencies which can show how they are engaging patients, increasing satisfaction scores, and lowering readmission rates especially within the initial 30 days post-hospital discharge. With a communication platform and engagement strategy in place, agencies are aligning themselves with these referral sources as they share a like-minded objective – healthier and happier patients.
A communication platform can help optimize the experience for the patient and the home health agency as all stakeholders can stay in better and more frequent communication during the episode of care. Administrators can schedule and send out timely messages suited to the patient’s condition and care. Ongoing communications include appointment reminders, adherence triggers, and diet/exercise recommendations.
Patients can also safely use the platform’s HIPAA-compliant email, text, SMS, and secure message to reach their home health clinicians regarding questions or issues. The essence of the in-person clinician-patient relationship remains intact during the video-based virtual check-ins. The patient’s family members can also be included in the virtual visits to drive better understanding of the patient’s progress and next steps.
Data is key to allowing administrator the ability to assess each patient’s level of interaction with each communication and the cadence of touchpoints. As needed, the administrator has the flexibility to adjust the compliance messaging to better engage (or re-engage) the patient. If there are concerns about non-compliance, the home health agency can decide if a more immediate intervention (e.g., call, in-home visit, or transfer to the ED is necessary.
Using a combination of messaging and video touchpoints, a communication platform can help a home health agency increase satisfaction and outcomes for the patient while actively reducing the number, length, and related costs/penalties of hospital stays. The coordinated plan to engage patients throughout the episode of care helps agencies minimize any “what if” scenario for the future of their agency, their reputation, their staff and most importantly, the agency’s impact in their region and community.