Improving Patient Engagement: The Answer to Avoidable Readmissions is at Your Fingertips

Improving Patient Engagement: The Answer to Avoidable Readmissions is at Your Fingertips

The secret to reducing readmissions in healthcare starts with effective communication and improving patient engagement.

As we are weeks away from ushering in a new year, there is little doubt the healthcare industry has faced a number of challenges this year: rising costs, increases in mental health issues, a shortage of healthcare workers and interoperability challenges — all exacerbated by COVID-19. One thing hasn’t changed — the number of hospital readmissions — and the associated penalties that can come with these are going hit even harder than normal because of the pandemic.

Last month, CMS announced 2,545 hospitals will be fined due to increased Medicare patient readmissions that occurred within 30 days. If hospitals weren’t already facing financial difficulties, they will be now. “It’s unfortunate that hospitals will face readmission penalties in fiscal year 2021,” said Akin Demehin, director of policy at the American Hospital Association, in a recent news story. “Given the financial strain that hospitals are under, every dollar counts, and the impact of any penalty is significant.”

So what have we learned since CMS launched the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program nine years ago? I can safely say that the processes hospitals are following today aren’t working. With 2021 around the corner, I urge all health systems to take a new approach. And it’s a simple one. It’s about improving communication through quality patient engagement. After all, the program was established to improve patient care quality while lowering overall costs.

Quality Patient Engagement the Key to Reducing Readmissions

We know that patients perceive the quality of care they receive based in large part on the quality of interactions they have with their healthcare clinician and team. And those feelings couldn’t be more important today. Patients want a personal, human connection with their providers even when they are not in the same room. 

By connecting with patients in the manner they prefer, caregivers can create personal connections that are foundational to building trust, leading to increased patient engagement and improved outcomes. 

When we look at all of the advancements in healthcare, many of them can be attributed to technology. So it should be no surprise that technology can help solve avoidable readmissions by improving patient engagement.

Improving Patient Engagement with Two-Way Messaging

It’s hard to go anywhere today without seeing people on some type of mobile device: tablets, cellphones and smartphones. According to a 2019 Pew Research Report, the vast majority of Americans (96%!) now own a cellphone of some kind.

One-in-five American adults are “smartphone-only” internet users, according to the same Pew report, meaning they own a smartphone but do not have traditional broadband service at home. According to Gallup, texting is now the most common form of communication for Americans under 50.

If healthcare systems want to improve communication with patients, they need to be ready to engage them on their terms. Today, that means through two-way text messaging

A new research study confirmed just that, with 73% of American consumers surveyed saying they would communicate with their doctor or healthcare provider via text if they had the option. Improvement and transformation of the patient experience will require communication beyond the walls of the hospital, medical practice, provider, and member engagement encounters.

3 Ways to Utilize Messaging to Reduce Readmissions

  1. Provide educational resources 

The improvement of a patient’s condition post-hospital discharge requires constant communication with not just the patient, but the families and caregivers. As healthcare providers look for ways to educate the community, they have the opportunity to provide resources for home-care management in meeting key recovery milestones. These educational nuggets sent via text could include: 

  • Links to articles, videos or PDFs related to certain health concerns
  • Pre/post-operative instructions or hospital discharge instructions
  1. Increase compliance to improve health

This is a huge opportunity to send reminders related to care coordination and follow up. Readmitted patients are more than twice as likely to say they cannot recall having their discharge instructions reviewed with them prior to discharge and three times more likely to report they did not manage their own medications at home, according to a recent study.

Providers can streamline communications and easily send automated text messages to patients at scheduled times with quick reminders such as:

  • Have you checked your blood pressure today?
  • Don’t forget to drink 8-10 glasses of water today.
  1. Reduce no-shows and cancellations

While scheduling outpatient follow-up visits can help decrease readmission rates, appointments alone are not effective in ensuring patients show up. Reminding patients about their appointments is crucial, especially with concerns over COVID-19 still rampant. The new research report indicated that 84% of Americans surveyed said they were concerned about their health and safety when visiting a healthcare facility.

Messages can be sent to:

  • Confirm and remind patients of their upcoming appointments and to share the address, directions and parking instructions
  • Share safety standards and any health protocols that could help reassure concerned patients

Register for our upcoming webinar, ‘Ready for a New Approach to Reducing Readmissions,’ and learn how you can improve patient engagement.