Patient readmissions are a significant burden on our existing healthcare system. Hospital readmission is defined as “a hospital admission that occurs within a specified time frame after discharge from the first admission after the end of index stay.” They threaten the hospital’s financial health and result in stress on the existing facilities.
Patient readmission rates are an important metric for the hospitals. With the Affordable Care Act making reporting of hospital readmission rates public mandatory to improve transparency, high hospital readmission rates would effectively be a deterrent for patients for future visits. Since reputation for quality is one of the established drivers of profits, high readmission rates actually negatively impact the hospital’s brand value. The CMS readmissions reduction program also penalizes hospitals where patient readmission rates are higher. The readmission penalties levied on hospitals exceeded half a billion dollars in 2017.
The good news is- 76 percent of these readmissions are preventable and technology can help in doing just that. Hospitals and healthcare organizations are actively seeking tech solutions to combat the financial and operational repercussions of high patient readmission rates. Telemedicine is emerging as the solution for combating the rising hospital readmission rates.
Ways telemedicine is decreasing hospital readmissions:
1. Overseeing patient recovery through remote patient monitoring
Remote patient monitoring can help physicians to track patient metrics after discharge from the hospital. These devices in the form of wearable devices or implantable devices gather data of patient vitals like heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygenation etc and transmits it through the internet of medical things. Any discrepancy in the patient vitals detected can be instantly monitored and checked upon giving the care team timely heads up. A recent study on high-risk cardiac patients over a one year period with implantable cardiac devices observed that readmission rates went down from 25 percent to 17 percent. The patients also reported feeling more empowered and willing to reach out to their physician resources after using telemedicine technology.
2. Follow-up visits through telemedicine consultations
An effective follow-up plan requires physicians’ and nurses’ involvement and the patient’s participation. With telemedicine, physicians can ensure that the chances of no-show appointments are minimized. Virtual follow-up appointments allow the care team to take post-discharge updates from patients on a regular basis. Since any symptoms or issues being observed get reported instantaneously, follow-up consultations through telemedicine direct contribute to improved patient outcomes. Since any complications that might be occurring get reported and resolved in real time, the instances of hospital readmission also go down .
Virtual telemedicine visits are equally beneficial for the patients as well. These follow-up visits allow the patients to report any change in their health status instantaneously to their caregivers. A patient with minor discomfort after getting a discharge from hospital may refrain from booking an appointment and dismiss the symptoms due to the efforts involved. In case of telemedicine with easy access to the physicians, booking virtual follow ups is a seamless process.
3. Use of Data Analytics to screen out patients with high risk of complications
Using big data and advanced algorithms to sift through patient data and analyze historical trends can also be used to identify the patients at risk for developing complications and requiring readmissions. The patients who are prone to missing out on their medication schedule can also be identified and closely monitored. Use of additional technology solutions like medication adherence and reminder apps can be recommended for such patients to ensure that they adhere to the prescribed medication regimen. Data analytics can also be used to single out the patients who are at elevated risk of developing serious complications and schedule follow-up appointments virtually to avoid readmissions at a later stage.
4. Avoidance of hospital acquired infections
Hospitals are a hotbed for acquired infections. Every time the patient walks into the hospital premises for routine follow-up visits, he/she is at risk for getting exposed to harmful pathogens. The situation is even dire for patients who are immunocompromised or have low immunity levels as a result of the treatment that was given during their hospital stay. Allowing the follow-up appointments with the physicians through telemedicine safeguards the patients against the risk of hospital acquired infections.
5. Ongoing patient education for improved outcomes
The more informed patients are about their condition and how to self-manage it, the less is the likelihood of readmission. Educating the patients about their ailments and how they can effectively manage that has been shown to improve outcomes for patients suffering from heart problems and diabetes. Using a telemedicine and video conferencing to provide additional support to a diabetic struggling to take their insulin could prevent an unnecessary hospital trip.
6. Optimum levels of care of the elderly and debilitated patients
Repeated hospital visits and traveling to-and-fro to hospitals for consultations can take a toll on the patients with accessibility challenges. By making use of specialist referrals, telemedicine also limits the need for hospital transfers. This limits the threat to the patients and proves to be less expensive for the hospitals as well. Assisted living centers and nursing homes are actively using telemedicine to prevent readmission, which is more dangerous for older patients with underlying health conditions. It is convenient for both the patients as well as their physicians, results in improved patient outcomes and decreases the hospital readmissions.
This article was originally published on the Arkenea blog and is republished here with permission.