It’s hard to find a healthcare manager who doesn't want to reduce hospital readmission rates. Why? Readmission uses precious time and resources of the doctors and nurses. It is also a major expense category for any medical institution.
The average cost of readmitting one patient is $15,200. Multiply this number by the median readmission rate of 3.8 million (as it was in 2019 in the US), and you can understand how costly this issue is for hospitals.
No wonder healthcare providers look for ways to reduce readmissions using automated technology. They want to ensure that patients get sufficient care and minimize the risk that they may need to come back to a hospital room.
Specializing in healthtech, Demigos knows how to target specific causes of readmission with software solutions and use technology to solve problems hospitals face.
In this article, we discuss the most effective strategies to decrease hospital readmission rates using technology and share specific software solutions you may want to build for your medical organization.
Why you should care about hospital readmission rates
In the US, Medicare cut payments to 2,583 hospitals by around $563 million in 2020.
Their excessive readmissions.
This fact alone should motivate you to look into software that helps reduce your organization’s readmissions.
But Medicare reimbursement is in no way the only reason to invest in new tech solutions. Here’s a list of additional reasons why reducing your hospital readmissions matters:
Patients have a better experience both inside and outside of the hospital. People usually aren’t happy to go back to the hospital. So, reducing the risk of readmission by ensuring that they get the necessary care during their first admission and detailed follow-ups afterward is a proven way to increase patient satisfaction.
A lower number of readmissions frees up time for doctors and other medical professionals, which saves them from burnout.
Low readmission rates generally indicate high-quality care, which ensures a good reputation for your hospital.
According to a recent study, from 5% to as much as 79% of all hospital readmissions are preventable, so why not take action to prevent them using tech?
Next, we’ll talk about how to do this.
Key strategies to reduce hospital readmission rates
Unfortunately, there’s no magic solution to immediately reduce your readmission rates to the lowest possible number. Still, some strategies have produced positive results. Below we describe the most effective of them.
Introduce virtual care
How can a hospital reduce readmission rates with the help of virtual care? Using smartphones, laptops, and other devices, patients can receive the medical attention they need and consult with health specialists without leaving their homes.
Imagine a discharged patient experiencing nausea and headache. Instead of going to the hospital, they can schedule a video appointment and have a consultation with a specialist through a video app.
Virtual care can be even more effective if you provide your discharged patients with a remote patient monitoring system, like for example, an app-connected wearable device.
A good example of how technology can help hospitals reduce readmissions is the telehealth and remote monitoring program implemented at an Ohio health care facility. Patients received a tablet with healthcare software and devices to track their vital signs. The system sent alerts to their clinicians’ dashboards and enabled communication via audio, video, and text messages. In this way, patients continued receiving care after discharge from the hospital. This program cut the readmission rate by 50% — quite a result, isn’t it?
A common reason why discharged patients come back to a medical facility is a lack of guidance during treatment and after discharge. It might be hard for people with no medical background to identify which symptoms are normal after, let’s say, surgery and which should raise concern. Naturally, they want to get checked if they experience a symptom and make sure that there is no serious health risk.
When patients are active participants in treatment decisions, they have fewer questions once they get home. That’s why it’s important to help your patients understand why healthcare professionals make certain decisions, what medications they’re taking and why, what symptoms they can expect to experience, and so on. In other words, providing patients with comprehensive information on their health conditions should be a primary strategy for reducing readmission rates in healthcare.
The same applies to the discharge instructions. A study shows that providing patients with clear discharge instructions using tech-backed methods can reduce readmissions by up to 45%.
To give patients a clearer vision of their condition, test results, and treatment plan, hospitals can use a variety of tools, including educational videos, augmented- and virtual-reality-aided materials, chatbots, and videoconferencing.
Read also: Building custom patient engagement software.
Digitalize health data
Health data visualization and digitalization allows medical staff to get a full picture of a patient’s medical history with a few clicks. It helps doctors make well-informed treatment decisions when they can see, for example, information about the patient's previous admissions, lab results, allergies, and so on. This leads to a higher incidence of positive treatment outcomes, so the patient has no need to return to the hospital.
Many medical institutions have already implemented electronic health records software that digitalizes patient information. But unfortunately, this step alone is not enough. Improving process automation and interoperability will get more noticeable results.
Identify readmission risk
Calculating a readmission risk score for each patient is also an effective practice that may lead to reduced readmission rates. A readmission risk score helps clinicians predict the onset of particular symptoms after surgery, or a side effect of medication, based on chronic disease, previous hospital stays, the patient’s socioeconomic status, and even lifestyle.
Consequently, a healthcare provider can determine if patients fall into a category with higher readmission risk than other patients and offer them a more detailed follow-up program. This way, when symptoms surface, both the patient and clinician are ready and can manage the situation without readmission.
For instance, the University of Kansas Health System was using technology to reduce hospital readmissions of diabetes patients. They cut the rate by about 11% after introducing a predictive analytics tool. This solution analyzed the readmitted patients’ previous hospital stays, age, payer type, chronic conditions, and other variables. The research team concluded that chronic conditions and post-discharge situations were the main reasons for readmissions. With this in mind, diabetes patients are now assigned a care manager who supervises their follow-up program.
All of these strategies are effective when struggling with high readmissions. But implementing them isn’t possible without choosing the right technology. What options do you have as a healthcare organization, and how do software solutions match the approaches discussed?
Next, we show you how technology can help you reduce hospital readmissions.
Role of software in reducing readmission rates
Now that you know some strategies to reduce hospital readmissions using automated technology, let’s review what software you need to put these strategies into action at your healthcare institution.
Video conferencing software
Video conferencing software (a telemedicine platform or app) is one of the most effective ways to stay in touch with your patients. Telemedicine enables real-time care at a distance, so patients don’t need to go to a hospital to talk to a doctor.
And a telehealth app is convenient for healthcare professionals, too. Besides the video call feature, telehealth apps can contain text communication features, virtual appointment scheduling, push notifications, and even a patient's profile with their data for a specialist to review before the call.
The prevailing type of telemedicine solution is primary care apps. These are great for non-urgent requests and follow-ups after discharge. As a healthcare provider, you can give your patients an opportunity to schedule telemedicine appointments, for example, to discuss their symptoms and well-being or get clarifications on their medication plan.
Another type of telemedicine solution is a specialty care-enablement telemedicine platform. These might be harder to implement. Still, vital sign data and talking with the patient might be enough for specialized doctors to understand the severity of a situation and decide whether a hospital admission is required or not.
Remote patient monitoring systems
A lot of healthcare managers wonder how to reduce hospital readmissions rate using remote patient monitoring systems. With RPM systems, healthcare professionals can keep an eye on patients’ vital signs via wearable devices and other trackers.
Remote patient monitoring systems usually have features such as:
Medical data tracking. Baseline RPM systems can track pulse, blood pressure, blood oxygen saturation, body temperature, and more. You might choose to add additional parameters, such as blood glucose levels for patients with diabetes or a heart activity monitor for a cardiac RPM system.
Data analytics. After receiving the patient’s health metrics in real-time, the system records them in a database so the hospital can review them dynamically, in the form of infographics, for example.
Notifications and alerts. Most RPM systems send notifications to doctors when the patient’s metrics are atypical so that care providers can provide immediate assistance when needed.
A study at one hospital in the US showed that this digital technology can reduce hospital readmissions by up to 78%. The study focused on patients with congestive heart failure — one of the most common reasons for readmission in elderly populations. The hospital introduced a mobile app that regularly reminded patients to record their vital signs, such as blood pressure and blood-oxygen saturation, as well as any symptoms they experienced. The hospital’s care coordinators received alerts of any abnormal data and could adjust treatment plans accordingly.
Electronic health records
An electronic health record (EHR) is a digital record of a patient’s personal and health information. Many US hospitals already use EHRs, and for a good reason. Let’s see how a hospital can reduce readmission rates with the help of this technology:
All of the patient’s medical information is kept in one place, online, giving doctors immediate access to the data. Thus, they see a patient’s situation in full without missing any details because of scattered or disorganized information, and this promotes better treatment outcomes.
Records can be easily shared via the internet. As a result, both in-person and virtual care is more efficient. For example, a doctor with a particular specialization can access a patient’s data to advise emergency clinicians on the patient’s treatment.
Electronic health records can be used along with a remote monitoring system so that doctors can review a patient’s history along with changes in the patient’s vital signs to adjust treatment plans as needed.
When implementing EHR and similar solutions, it’s important to keep patient data security in mind. You have to make sure that all new software is HIPAA-compliant and doesn’t violate any healthcare privacy regulations.
Patient engagement software
Patient engagement software can help you to educate patients about their conditions and show them how to care for themselves after discharge. Instead of written instructions that can seem vague and are often hard-to-follow, patients can view educational videos that demonstrate the actions the patient needs to take.
For example, you can send your patient a video that demonstrates how a certain medication helps treat a condition or how to redress a wound. These are good alternatives to a plain description of a chemical process or an abstract description of a procedure, aren’t they?
Automated follow-up systems
An automated follow-up system is another way to decrease hospital readmission rates using technology. This type of software helps doctors and patients make sure that recovery is going as planned and quickly notice any issues that arise.
Your systems can include self-check-up reminders, post-discharge care instructions, medication plans, and test result notifications. Patients can receive and submit information online, via text messages, or by phone. If a system detects any concerning information, a doctor receives an alert.
For example, Brigham and Women's Hospital decreased their readmission rates by 8.3% after introducing automated test result notifications. The main reason this technology was implemented is that often the results of tests ordered by hospital attending physicians were still pending when patients were discharged. When the results came in later, primary care physicians sometimes missed them. But when they received automated notifications of the results from the hospital physicians, the primary care doctors could follow up with their patients much faster, ultimately leading to improved care.
Some hospital readmissions are unavoidable. Still, there are effective ways to reduce hospital readmission rates using a strategy enhanced by modern software solutions.
With new tech products like telehealth platforms and RPM apps, clinicians can assist discharged patients without the need for another hospital admission. Software solutions like EHRs help medical professionals make better-informed treatment decisions, and patient engagement software lets patients be more aware of their health.
Not sure which strategy to choose and how to implement new software at your medical institution? Let’s find the answers together. At Demigos, we can analyze your specific needs and develop the custom solution that fits best.