Timely post-discharge activities can help avoid hospital readmissions. But when your health system is facing overworked staff and increased emergency department patient volumes during a health crisis, it's easy to lose focus on post-discharge follow-up. Yet, establishing an understanding of the patient's recovery within 24 to 48 hours of discharge amidst COVID-19 makes post-discharge programs more important than ever.
Consistent contact with patients after discharge helps to identify not only those at risk, but those who are having challenges completing their discharge instructions. The industry standard is to reach out to 100% of discharged patients. But don't be satisfied with just leaving a voicemail, make it a goal to speak or text directly with the patient to identify gaps and challenges before the patient becomes at risk for readmission. Take the case of a woman with COVID-like symptoms of shortness of breath, discharged after testing negative for COVID-19. A routine follow-up call revealed that 48 hours post-discharge, she had not reviewed her nebulizer prescription.
A combination of digital and human outreach with patients, or their caregivers, can help ensure post-discharge questions are answered well ahead of any acute situations and help keep emergency department activity for true emergencies. In the case of the above patient, proactive outreach not only helped prevent clinical complications after discharge but also most likely increased her affinity for and satisfaction rating of her health providers.
Real-Time Reporting Reveals Actionable Information
Similarly, a large western academic health system implemented a new service in its patient portal called 'Care Companion.' Patients who've had COVID-19, recovered, and are discharged from the hospital receive access to Care Companion. Here, patients receive daily "tasks" to complete and once they complete them, responses are sent to their provider for continuous monitoring.Solutions like this help ensure patient safety and positive outcomes, plus customized protocols can enable real-time escalation whenever a critical question or matter arises, connecting patients to agents who can field questions and coordinate with the system's healthcare provider if necessary.
Get Smarter About Patient Engagement
Similarly, patient engagement teams at several U.S. hospitals have reported their highest connection rates of the last year during April 2020 to June 2020, amidst the peak of COVID-19 activity. But interestingly enough, they also reported their rate of follow-up physician appointments has decreased.
At first glance, these numbers show that patients may be home to answer the phone but are not making their follow-up appointments. But what's the rest of the story? Are they afraid to schedule a follow-up visit? Are they aware of telehealth options, and are they willing to try virtual visits? Or have they experienced a financial strain such as a loss of a job and benefits? The rest of the story can be uncovered through a strong outreach program, post-discharge services, and a commitment to patient engagement throughout the entire patient journey.
A good post-discharge process should offer ongoing and continuous communication to help support patient safety and compliance and have flexibility to change processes as community health needs change. For example, at Stericycle, we help health systems develop and implement a post-discharge program that ensures patients follow up on discharge instructions and take care of referrals and diagnostics as needed through a combination of live voice and digital communications. During COVID-19, we have helped beyond connecting patients to a primary care doctor when needed and pivoted to help patients use telehealth or video calls to check in on health and well-being.
Whether it's in the midst of a health crisis or conducting everyday business, reviewing your post-discharge processes can identify gaps in the patient journey and potentially discover new ways to engage patients in their own care. To learn more about how we provide hospitals scalable resources, including real-time reporting, tracking, and feedback mechanisms that are useful for improving personalized service, patient satisfaction, and patient health through our Post-Discharge Services, click here.