Hospital readmissions cost an estimated $26 billion annually in the United States. On average, each readmission is about $15,000. Luckily, nearly one in five readmissions after surgery are potentially preventable. Patient education and support play an important role, and a centralized patient call center focused on post-discharge follow up promotes continuity of care, enhances health literacy, and address care barriers. Below are five ways a patient call center can be utilized to reduce hospital readmissions and additional tips for success.
1. Provide timely post-discharge support.
Patients discharged from the hospital inevitably have questions about medications, care management, and more—and they need immediate answers. When they don’t have adequate post-discharge support, they are at an increased risk for readmission. A fully staffed, consumer-centric patient call centers can make a big impact. More specifically, well-trained call center staff can review important information and answer basic questions about post-discharge care often within 48 hours of discharge when patients need information most.
2. Facilitate follow-up tests and visits.
Follow-up visits are associated with a reduction in readmission risk, and the sooner these visits occur, the better. Call center staff can schedule and confirm follow-up appointments in a timely manner, so patients don’t fall through the cracks and end up back in the hospital. The same is true for follow-up tests, including lab tests, pending at discharge. Call center staff can encourage patients to follow through with these tests and ensure aftercare providers are aware of the results.
3. Perform medication reconciliation.
Call center staff can double check medications, identify any potential drug interactions, explain medication regimens, uncover and address potential barriers to adherence, and familiarize patients with potential side effects—all of which is helpful in terms of preventing readmissions.
4. Coordinate home services.
Call center staff can ensure patients receive home services or equipment on time and that caregivers are available as expected. If a caregiver isn’t available, call center staff can explore alternatives such as community services or someone else who can assist the patient.
5. Explain what to do if a problem arises.
Call center staff can review what the patient or caregiver should do if a problem arises. This includes helping patients and caregivers understand what constitutes an emergency vs. non-emergency situation and what to do in the case of both.
Strategies for Success
The following tips can help hospitals make the most of their patient call center to reduce readmissions:
- Arrange for interpreter services, if needed. Patients need to understand what call center agents are saying for the post-discharge call to be effective. Interpreter services can help.
- Confirm patient or caregiver understanding. Call center staff can use the teach-back method to assess how well they explained concepts and instructions to patients and their caregivers.
- Develop call center scripts. Scripts help call center staff feel confident and ensure consistency.
- Document the call. Utilizing a documentation form will help provide relevant details to include.
- Leverage technology. Research suggests there are clinical and demographic parameters that may increase the risk of readmission. Luckily, there are many artificial intelligence (AI)-driven tools that can help hospitals identify patients who are at the highest risk of readmission and then prioritize call center work queues accordingly.
- Identify and measure performance metrics. Key performance metrics help identify whether call center staff perform as expected to provide a high-quality patient experience that ultimately reduces readmissions.
Post-discharge clinical care plays an important role in reducing readmissions, and hospital call centers can help. The first phone call post-discharge is a critical touchpoint which can make or break a patient outcome. Healthcare organizations that take the time to invest in a patient call center and refine workflows will undoubtedly see fewer readmissions and lower overall costs.
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