According to the the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, 75% of hospital readmissions can be avoided.
Patients don’t want to keep boomeranging back to the hospital, and under new regulations hospitals are financially penalized for having high readmission numbers.
Either way, it’s in the best interest of both the patient and the medical organization to minimize readmission to only those cases that truly warrant additional hospital-setting treatments.
But, what are the best ways to avoid readmission when it isn’t absolutely necessary?
1) Improve Communication
Both patients and hospital staff need to understand that clear, transparent communication is critical to decreased readmission numbers.
The problem is, however, that when patients are leaving the hospital they’re usually focused on everything else but healthcare instructions. Yet this is when they receive the bulk of their post-institution care guidance.
When they’re leaving the hospital or treatment facility, they’re typically in the process of gathering up belongings and looking forward to a bright future. They’re excited about regaining freedoms and the prospect of getting back to their usual routines. But they aren’t so receptive to detailed medical advice or post-op care guidelines.
A better approach is to administer and process post-stay healthcare information in a gradual fashion. Some call this an education-from-admission strategy. If you parse out small chunks of instructive communications day-by-day, the information is more likely to be received and remembered.
For example, nurses can cover diagnosis and prognosis information on one day; then deliver dietary guidelines on another; then cover post-op care and medications on a third day.
Patients also need to be assertive about their needs and questions. There’s no shame in asking doctors and nursing staff to repeat instructions or information. Don’t hold back. As a patient, it’s your health that’s at stake.
2) Avoid Medication Mix-Ups
Medication mix-ups are one of the more common reasons for hospital readmission. When people leave the hospital, they usually depart with a different set of medications than what they came in with. The transition opens up all kinds of opportunity for confusion, complexity, duplication and adverse medication interactions.
As with general communication issues, both doctors and patients need to understand every detail of the patient’s medication regimen (this includes prescriptions, over the counter medications, vitamins and supplements). Patients who are incapacitated need to have friends or family check the patient’s home for medications in order to ensure a clear view of every drug being taken.
Ultimately the patient needs clear instructions (both written and oral) about what medications to take, when and how to take them, as well as what not to take. If multiple doctor instructions contradict each other, then the patient needs to insist on resolution or clarification.
3) Establish Rules for Calling Care Providers
As part of a complete illness evaluation plan, patients need to know exactly who they will call for care when specific symptoms or feelings arise. Sometimes it’s appropriate to call 911, but in many cases a 911 call or ER visit is not the right call. There’s a fine line here. You don’t want to overreact or underreact.
The doctor, health care staff and patient need to have well-defined evaluation outlines that allow the patient to know when symptoms and pain levels are stable, when emergency indicators are present, and when health conditions are deteriorating (and at what pace).
Patients should have a detailed list of contacts to call on days, nights and weekends (including 911). Telephone and web monitoring services should also factor into this discussion. These support services can help reduce 911 calls and ER visits, because trained professionals are on hand to evaluate the patient’s health status throughout the day.
Better communication, reduced medication confusion, and a clearly outlined symptom evaluation process go a long way toward reducing hospital readmissions. All these strategies help eliminate overwhelming, last-minute check lists, and enable the patients to absorb information as they’re thinking about their treatments and health.