A surprising number of patients – 1 in 5, in fact – experience an adverse post-discharge event such as infections or procedural complications within 30 days of release. This adds a significant cost to the United States healthcare system, contributing an extra $15 to $20 billion annually. What’s more, 30 percent of these readmissions are preventable, and nearly a quarter are ameliorable.
It’s no secret that hospitals need to address the post-discharge problem; in November 2015, CMS proposed a ruling that requires hospitals to establish post-discharge follow-up programs. Furthermore, post-discharge calls have started to become an essential element of payer reimbursements – some insurers require patient answers to post-discharge survey questions – which makes them absolutely crucial for health systems’ financial standings.
But looking at post-discharge calling solely as a requirement for earning payer reimbursements is a mistake; checking in with patients after clinical appointments provides the opportunity to ensure patients adhere to their ongoing care instructions, schedule future appointments, recommend referrals, and more. All of these initiatives enhance the patient experience and create patients for life. In fact, Accenture found that hospitals that provide superior patient experiences achieve up to 50 percent higher margins.
A patient’s journey shouldn’t end when he or she is released from the hospital; communication post-discharge increases long-term loyalty. By updating call center processes, you can optimize post-discharge calling to focus on improving patient retention and regain the estimated $8 billion in lost revenue.
How to Retain Patients Effectively with Post-Discharge Calling
Traditional methods for making outbound post-discharge calls include sole reliance on EMR data and disease-specific checklists. The problem with this method is that EMR data is only one piece of the puzzle that makes up a patient; patients have complex wants and needs based on all kinds of factors – demographic, psychographic, socioeconomic, and clinical history, to name a few.
Call center agents need access to all of this data in order to truly understand patients and engage them effectively after discharge. Here’s how to achieve this:
1. Build 360-Degree Patient Profiles
Personalization is incredibly important– 84 percent of consumers reported that being treated like a person, not a number, is very important to winning their business. Thus, healthcare organizations need to prioritize personalization in every interaction to retain patients long-term, including post-discharge calling.
Patient profiles give call center agents the data needed to personalize conversations effectively; they compile demographic, psychographic, sentiment, and clinical data onto a single screen, giving agents everything they need to connect with callers – including alerts to overdue preventative care, screenings, and missed appointments.
In addition, profiles provide data that ensure the call is executed efficiently and effectively, data including alerts of priority information agents need to focus on during the call and all previous interaction data. Furthermore, profiles help increase reach rates, since agents are armed with best times to call, primary and secondary communication preferences, alternative contact methods, and contact info for other members of patients’ households who may act as caregivers.
Call center agents who hyper-personalize the experience leveraging comprehensive profiles – with help from auto-updated alerts, scripts, and surveys– help retain patients by engaging them on deep levels, laying the foundation for long-lasting relationships and positive health outcomes.
Below is an example of a patient profile and script as a call center agent sees it:
2. Use Technology to Achieve the Single-Call Concept
Post-discharge callers using traditional methods have to search through fragmented data and juggle multiple technology platforms during calls (sometimes as many as 10 for a single call!), causing inefficient patient conversations that are less than comprehensive. It’s also fairly common that patients are transferred numerous times, thanks to departmental call center segmentation. These disconnected processes were once tolerated by patients before consumerism and high expectations for service became mainstream, but, now that they have, post-discharge calls need to focus on serving patients in holistic ways.
Integration between key technology platforms like HCRM, EMR, RevCycle, and the call center makes it possible for agents to address all post-discharge patient needs on a single call, as well as offer further targeted engagement opportunities. By connecting these platforms, agents have access to all the historical data they need to address post-discharge initiatives, schedule follow-up or referral appointments, proactively suggest seminars or classes the patient may be interested in, answer questions, and more.
In Real Life: For one large southeastern healthcare organization, consolidating their disparate call centers—they had eleven of them—and shifting towards single, comprehensive post-discharge calls had an amazing effect: reduced readmissions, a $17 million revenue increase, 40,000 more member conversions, and a five to six-time surge in agent productivity.
3. Create Scripts to Guide Best Next Actions
Scripts, particularly when paired with smart call queues, take the guesswork out of post-discharge calling. As a best practice, health systems should create numerous scripts so they’re personalized to unique market segmentation needs and patient profiles. Sophisticated call center platforms even pre-populate the scripts with personalized information, due to HCRM integration.
Scripts help agents execute best next actions, which are specific to individual patient interests and needs, and strategically determined to further organizations’ bottom lines; scripts ensure patients are not experiencing adverse issues and thus curb unnecessary spend. Plus, scripts can help agents ask those post-discharge questions that payers may require for reimbursement.
Directing patients to best next actions requires sophisticated automation processes that take vast amounts of patient data, analyze it, and turn it into proactive scripts for agents to use. Scripts filled with best next actions and smart alerts ensure agents are always proactively engaging and retaining patients on every call, including post-discharge calls.
The patient journey isn’t a straight line with a distinct beginning and end; it’s a continuous series of events, as patients experience care episodes throughout their lives. This presents health systems with an opportunity: learn from each care cycle to make subsequent ones better for the patient. Thus, health systems should not look at post-discharge calling as the finale of a patient’s interaction, but instead as a nurturing opportunity for future engagement.
This attitude aligns nicely with the widespread shift to value-based care, which emphasizes long-term, holistic patient care over episodic interventions. By implementing a post-discharge calling program, healthcare organizations can add value outside of patients’ direct clinical experiences, encouraging lifelong relationships.