How Mobile Tools Can Drive Lower Readmissions and Higher Patient Expectations

Rolling out cutting-edge mobile tools and infrastructure helps healthcare organizations improve quality of care and patient satisfaction.

Now more than ever, healthcare providers strive to reduce readmissions to their facilities. The penalties for providers who don't do their utmost to prevent patients from spending days or weeks going through a healthcare revolving door are mounting rapidly.

In October 2012, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) started slashing Medicare payments for Inpatient Prospective Payment System hospitals with excess readmissions. The action stemmed from a provision in the Affordable Care Act of 2010 that required the U.S. Health and Human Services Department to establish a readmission reduction program.

According to CMS, excess readmissions are measured by a ratio that’s achieved by dividing a hospital’s number of predicted 30-day readmissions for certain conditions (heart attack, heart failure, pneumonia, COPD, hip/knee replacement and coronary artery bypass graft surgery) by the number that would be expected, based on an average hospital with similar patients. A ratio greater than 1.0000 indicates excess readmissions.

Hospital readmissions have been identified as a major contributor to healthcare costs. While some readmissions may be planned or unavoidable, it has been estimated that more than $8.25 billion is spent each year on potentially preventable readmissions.

SIGN UP: Get more news from the HealthTech newsletter in your inbox every two weeks!

Mobile Tools Expand Patient Engagement

Various studies have linked factors such as patient age, overall health and specific disease conditions with risk for readmission. A patient’s socio-economic status, education level and racial or ethnic background have also been cited as likely risk factors. While healthcare providers have little or no control over basic patient characteristics, there is one area that shows significant potential for lowering current readmission rates: patient engagement.

Hospitals and clinics nationwide increasingly are launching patient engagement initiatives with the goal of getting more people to actively participate in their own care. In fact, research shows that patients who are both engaged and satisfied with their care are less likely to be readmitted to the hospital 30 days after discharge.

Still, for many healthcare organizations, achieving active patient engagement and making healthcare a two-way collaboration between patients and providers remains a struggle. Part of the problem is the way healthcare organizations approach the issue. To date, most providers offer patients, at best, a simple web portal that allows users to access their basic health records, examine test results and order prescriptions refills.

Although numerous studies have shown that patients are intrigued by the possibility of using sophisticated digital healthcare tools, such as mobile apps and wearable devices that provide detailed diagnostic data, providers generally have been slow to embrace these options. Sadly, compared with the digital technologies that many people now use on a daily basis — such as texting, social media and streaming video — the patient portal appears outdated.

Realizing that portals are only a partial solution to satisfactory patient engagement, a growing number of organizations are turning their attention to the next generation of point-of-care technologies. New approaches and systems now help improve patient insight and comfort while allowing clinicians to deliver faster and more efficient patient care, all of which can reduce the average length of a hospital stay and the number of readmissions.

At Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pa., for instance, staff use tablets to interact with admitted patients. The devices allow patients to review their health records and also entertain themselves. Patients can access more than 100 applications, including one that provides educational resources, care team information and details about their stay. As of 2017, the health system had deployed 250 tablets in three of its hospitals.

As mobile technology becomes ever more tightly integrated into daily life, patients are coming to expect a similar level of service and interaction in their point-of-care treatment. To meet this expectation, and to compete effectively in an increasingly regulated healthcare sector, organization leaders must develop a clear patient engagement strategy and be prepared to act on and embrace the powerful new technologies patients desire.

What Drives Patients to Engage with Care?

A recent survey conducted by business management firm Ernst & Young found that both healthcare consumers and physicians are hungry for increased digital engagement. More than half of the consumers surveyed (54 percent) indicated that they were comfortable in contacting their physician digitally. They also expressed interest in using personal technology, such as a smartphone or a connected device, for information sharing (33 percent) and video consultation (21 percent).

The report also discovered widespread agreement among physicians that digital technologies and data sharing will contribute effectively to the overall well-being of the population. The study revealed that 83 percent of physicians believe that increased consumer- and patient-generated data from connected devices would benefit the overall quality of care and enable more personalized care plans.

Two-thirds (66 percent) of physicians replied that increased digital technologies would reduce the burden on the healthcare system and its associated costs. A slightly lower number of physicians (64 percent) believe digital technologies will help reduce the burden on doctors and nurses while making a positive impact on the critical issue of burnout.

Creating incentives for data sharing is critical to ensuring patient use of healthcare engagement technologies, the study observed. Although only 26 percent of consumers are interested in sharing lifestyle information with their physician, the number of positive responses rose significantly when several incentives were added to the question.

The most attractive incentives for increasing patients’ digital engagement with their physicians are reduced waiting times (61 percent) and cost savings (55 percent). Additionally, despite hesitation in sharing dietary and exercise information, 26 percent of consumers indicated that the ability to receive tailored diet and exercise plans would encourage their engagement via the use of digital technology.

Perhaps most important, the report uncovered increased awareness among consumers about the current level of innovation in the health sector. A full 64 percent of consumers consider the U.S. health industry to be innovative. Physicians are also on board with patient engagement technologies. The report found that 70 percent of physicians are positive about the effectiveness of the technologies currently in use.

To learn more download our white paper "Next-Generation Patient Engagement Technology Enhances Patient Outcomes."

FatCamera/Getty Images
May 24 2018