By now, most healthcare professionals understand the relationship between patient satisfaction and meaningful care.
Monitoring and measuring patient perceptions of care (referred to the "Patient Experience") provides us with valuable insight into whether patients feel they received appropriate care at your facility, and whether they feel they've been sufficiently prepared to manage their recovery after leaving the hospital.
In the span of just a few years, the Patient Experience has emerged as one of the strongest rallying cries for healthcare quality improvement. But with limited amount of time, resources, and budget at your disposal, how do you prioritize which patient improvement efforts should be tackled first?
Why Satisfaction Data Alone Won't Drive Improvement
Patient satisfaction surveys have been used for decades to quantify patient opinion on the services they receive from their doctor, hospital, or any number of other healthcare services. In addition to increasing the likelihood your patients will choose you again—and recommend you to their family and friends—high patient satisfaction has been shown to correspond to institutions that provide better quality healthcare.
Because of this, CMS created the first nationally recognized satisfaction survey for hospitals—the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers & Systems (HCAHPS) Survey.
However, while these patient satisfaction surveys allow you to compare your service levels to certain benchmarks (internal and external), they don't identify specific employees and/or processes within your operation that are impacting the patient experience.
The only way to manage the overall patient experience—thereby improving the delivery of appropriate care (which increases positive patient outcomes)—is to have a process in place that enables you to continuously identify and resolve healthcare service issues.
Without that feedback loop, it can be extremely difficult to achieve (and maintain) high HCAHPS scores.
How to Prioritize Efforts that Improve the Patient Experience
As a healthcare professional responsible for improving the patient experience, you've been tasked with orchestrating a significant number of activities in a way that is meaningful to the patient—activities that may, in fact, fall outside your normal operational purview.
Given this broad mandate, how do you determine where to devote your limited time and resources?
Your best resource, of course, is your patients.
By following up with them after they leave the hospital, you add a layer of insight into your healthcare operations, thus gaining valuable information to:
- Focus improvement efforts.
- Replicate current best practices across your facilities.
- Ensure appropriate and meaningful care is provided.
In short, your post discharge follow up program is the key to identifying processes and/or people that substantially impact the patient experience (good or bad) for your patients.
If you're reading this article, there's a good chance you're familiar with the post discharge follow up process to some degree—you may even be running your own program. However, programs can vary significantly from hospital to hospital. Thus, it's important we define what post discharge follow up is (and isn't).
DEFINITION: POST DISCHARGE FOLLOW UP
The process of reaching out to patients via the telephone, within a predetermined
amount of time after discharge, to rapidly assess their health status, escalate them to
clinical resources as needed, review care instructions, encourage compliance, schedule
necessary follow-up care, and gather feedback on their hospital experience.
You'll notice that the word "survey" wasn't included in the above definition. This is a small (yet critically important) distinction. Given the wide spread use of satisfaction surveys by healthcare professionals, it's easy for them to believe (mistakenly) that post discharge follow up is just another survey call.
While patient information is indeed collected during post hospital follow up, the goal is not solely to capture and report these findings. Rather, it’s to support the patient in her recovery as she transitions out of the hospital and to a lower level of care (home, assisted living, rehab, etc.). This requires a post discharge follow up process that can notify and assign tasks to various healthcare practitioners and facilities—in near real time—based on the patient’s individual responses during post discharge follow up.
By implementing a follow-up process that is focused on supporting the needs of your patients—rather than just capturing data—you’ll have a system that is much more effective at uncovering and filling service gaps.
How to Use Post Hospital Follow Up Programs Successfully
Whether you realize it or not, your goals to improve the patient experience are intertwined with a variety of other healthcare improvement initiatives—most notably your hospital readmission prevention efforts.
Your post discharge follow up program (when deployed correctly) is uniquely suited to simultaneously impact multiple healthcare processes—contributing to the improved delivery of care and better patient outcomes.
Here’s an example:
To prevent readmissions using a post discharge follow up process, it must identify and close gaps in care that cause unnecessary re-hospitalizations. Specifically, it ensures:
- Patients follow their discharge instructions (e.g., taking medications as prescribed, following appropriate diets, and utilizing any in-home monitoring equipment).
- Patients experiencing symptoms are immediately escalated to a clinician for evaluation.
- All appropriate follow up appointments are scheduled with relevant healthcare practitioners.
Addressing patient experience issues works in a similar fashion. It consists of identifying and closing gaps in service that cause patients to feel the care they received did not meet their needs and/or expectations.
Based on specific feedback, post discharge follow up allows you to:
- Identify service areas that require improvement.
- Immediately notify service recovery teams.
- Recognize (and share) exceptional service provided by individual employees.
- Monitor the effectiveness of your improvement initiatives over time.
In this context, the process of coordinating post discharge care serves as a unified strategy for achieving readmission rates in accordance with CMS regulations while continuously improving HCAHPS Scores in line with CMS’s Value-Based Purchasing program.
Where is Post Hospital Follow Up Headed?
The future of post discharge follow up is centered around continuously improving the delivery of quality healthcare by supporting patients as they transition beyond the four walls of the hospital. When done correctly, post discharge follow up serves as an invaluable tool, helping you to:
- Increase patient compliance with post discharge care plans.
- Coordinate relevant healthcare practitioners, facilities, and programs.
- Find and remove issues impacting satisfaction.
- Immediately identify and treat symptomatic patients.
- Drive appropriate use of emergency services.
If you've implemented your own post discharge follow up program, are you capable of continuously identifying and resolving healthcare service issues that negatively impact the patient experience?