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At a Glance:

  • Hospital Readmissions Overview: Hospital readmission rates, a key indicator of care quality, highlight that up to 75% of readmissions are preventable with improved care.
  • Importance of Patient Education: Patient education, particularly during the discharge process, significantly impacts readmission rates, with clear communication reducing readmissions by up to 45%. 
  • Strategies for Readmission Reduction: The “teach-back” strategy, facilitated by modern communication channels like SMS, emerges as a powerful tool to reinforce patient understanding and decrease clinic appointments.

Hospital readmission rates are a way of appraising the quality and effectiveness of the care that patients receive. The lower the readmission rate, the higher the perceived quality of care, and vice versa.  As reported by Medicare, at least 20 percent of all admitted patients undergo readmission within 30 days after discharge. Some of these are necessary, however, it is estimated that a whopping 75 percent of these readmissions are avoidable with better care.

Reducing hospital readmissions can be achieved via a variety of interventions including arranging timely outpatient appointments and ensuring medication reconciliation. One of the most powerful techniques is the optimization of provider-patient communication. When communication is effective, high-quality patient education can occur. The right resources can be provided, empowering patients to help themselves. Recent studies show that leveraging automated messaging technology within patient education protocols greatly helps in reducing hospital readmissions.

Understanding hospital readmissions

Before understanding strategies to reduce hospital readmissions, it’s vital to first understand what hospital readmissions are and why they happen. Hospital readmission denotes readmitting a patient within 30 days after discharge from an earlier hospital stay. The 30-day readmission rate is the standard point of reference utilized by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS).

CMS reported that since 2012, hospitals have been subject to penalties in the case of too many readmissions soon after discharge. The considerable penalties levied on healthcare centers underline the need for healthcare providers to receive and provide continuing medical education (CME) to enhance their patient outcomes and reduce readmissions.

Understanding the circumstances surrounding hospital readmissions is challenging. However, the three primary factors that contribute to readmissions are:

(1) poor patient education
(2) substandard follow-up care
(3) insufficient coordination after discharge

Some readmissions are, of course, unavoidable and occur as a result of unanticipated medical complications. However, providers can and should avoid numerous readmissions via improved patient education and engagement during the discharge process. In fact, a report indicates that better patient communication and engagement after discharge is tied to reducing hospital readmissions by up to 45 percent – which can also result in millions of dollars in savings in just one year.

Why patient education matters

Patients who clearly comprehend their after-hospital care instructions have over 30 percent less chance of readmission compared to others. These instructions include guidance around how and when to take medication, when to return for follow-up appointments, and so on. Unfortunately, discharge procedures in many healthcare facilities often become complicated, time-consuming, and fundamentally ineffective.

Healthcare consumers often leave the facility overwhelmed and hurried. They are burdened with armfuls of paper and given no way to easily and digitally communicate with their provider. As a result, the information and aftercare directions they obtain through verbal instruction on their way out become massively fruitless.

Patient education should start at admission and continue throughout the hospital stay. Communication needs to be consistent throughout the interaction between the patient and clinicians. This means uniting disjointed communication across the organization so that consumers receive all the vital information in a single channel.

Therefore, reducing hospital readmissions with enhanced patient education implies adopting efficient patient communication hubs that elevate patient education. Adopting a continuous, consistent, and full lifecycle of patient interactions is one of the best strategies to reduce hospital readmissions.

Interactive technology is shaping patient education

Savvy healthcare providers have noticed that patient education has changed dramatically over the past few decades. The biggest change is the shift from providers deciding what healthcare consumers want to a practice of patient enablement where treatment decisions entail cooperation between providers and consumers.

Traditionally, reducing hospital readmissions relied upon written materials around self-care guidelines, medical management, medication, and disease processes. Today, technology has revolutionized how consumers receive healthcare education. Delivery models now involve interactive services like patient education and pain management, tailored to meet patients’ individual needs.

Embracing patient communication technologies like WELL™ doesn’t just improve a provider’s medical and motivational support to their patients. These technologies also enable them to run their practices more efficiently by introducing cost-effective, innovative approaches to educate patients and boost self-management.

Embracing the teach-back strategy

Reducing hospital readmissions with enhanced patient education also means employing new approaches, such as the patient teach-back strategy. Simply delivering patient education is not satisfactory. The patient teach-back strategy allows providers to examine patient understanding and cement information in patients’ memories.

With the teach-back strategy, patients use their own words to describe what they need to understand about their health or identify areas where they need to do better as patients. This guarantees efficient patient-clinician communication by letting patients “teach-back” what they have learned during their interaction. This is an effective tactic in decreasing clinic appointments, reducing hospital readmissions, and enhancing patient satisfaction and outcomes.

This approach is most powerful when it can take place through a modern communication medium like SMS so it can be convenient and accessible for all patients, and providers can offer a personalized, 1:1 service.

The age of healthcare consumerism is forcing providers to rethink their outlook on health IT. It calls for an adoption of a more on-demand style of healthcare delivery, connecting patients to caregivers and permitting more personalization and conversations. In an era of shared decision-making, patient-centered care, and accountable organizations, a teach-back strategy is an effective approach in improving the understanding of and adherence to care instructions.

What reducing hospital readmissions entail

Reducing hospital readmissions and evading penalties means recognizing the significance of patient education through effective engagement and communication strategies following discharge. During the 30-day window after discharge, patients require effective communication regarding their care instruction to proactively address issues as they appear and before they worsen. It is vital that communication must be straightforward, simple, and based in channels that allow providers to meet patients where they are.

Without this level of communication, patients will always be at risk of getting readmitted. In turn, hospitals with high readmission rates will face severe penalties. Just last year, CMS announced that they will be penalizing 2,545 hospitals in the 2021 fiscal year due to too many readmitted Medicare patients. That’s 83 percent of the total number of hospitals evaluated. On average, they’ll be receiving a 0.69 percent payment cut for every readmitted Medicare patient.

Therefore, providers should prioritize patient education by modifying their existing processes and workflows with the use of communication technologies to dramatically reduce readmission rates and corresponding penalties. Communication tools that enable conversational texting, like WELL, are vital to providers, not just because they are effective for their patient communications, but because they are also effective for their bottom line.

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