Healthcare Providers, Patient Safety and the Role of Digital Technology

January 18, 2019 David Williams

 

A classic study from the early 2000s found nearly 20% of patients experience an adverse event within three weeks of discharge, and many of those events could have been prevented. Since that time, healthcare providers have increasingly focused on issues related to readmission rates, infection and recurrence of previously diagnosed issues.

Let’s take a look at how things have evolved over the past two decades and the role that digital technology is playing in transforming the healthcare provider landscape.

What has the trend been over the last 20 years?

In the same study referenced above, the readmission rate for Medicare patients within 30 days of discharge from hospitals was about 20%. This rate rose to above 21% in 2007, then declined to just under 18% in 2015. For conditions not targeted by the Medicare study, the rate also dropped from roughly 15% to 13% over this time.

A more recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine cited a continuing decline in readmission rates. And it appears that the Hospitals Readmissions Reduction Program, included as part of the Affordable Care Act and applying steep penalties to hospitals with higher than expected readmission rates for certain conditions, has helped maintain this decline.

The importance and challenges of patient safety

Providers want to ensure the best outcomes for patients, and the reality is that patient safety can be a costly proposition if it isn’t sustained.

Most major health insurers have policies that adjust healthcare provider reimbursement for Healthcare-Associated Infections (HAIs), preventable medical conditions or complications that arise while under the care of a hospital or other medical facility. The loss of these reimbursements can be a significant cost for these facilities, and to that end — lost revenue.

Underscoring this point, in 2008 Medicare stopped paying for certain preventable medical errors caused by hospital negligence, and changes like this are possible at any time — again with significant potential impact to facilities’ bottom lines.

Improving outcomes: key considerations for providers

Healthcare providers and facilities can take various steps to improve patient outcomes and patient safety. Here are some important considerations:

  • Providers benefit when they adopt a culture that’s patient-focused, ensuring doctors are focused on patient care first and foremost, versus pouring over electronic records and computer screens.
  • It’s crucial for hospitals and medical facilities to ensure a strong chain of communications between all professionals involved in providing treatment to a patient. Transparency, even when the results might be adverse, is a critical step in improving overall patient safety.
  • Facilities that encourage teamwork have been shown to increase clinical performance by an average of 34%, resulting in better patient safety and outcomes, employee satisfaction and revenue protection for the facility over time.

How can digital technology help?

Powered by digital technology advances, doctors, other patient caregivers and medical facilities can significantly enhance their efforts to improve patient safety and outcomes.

  • It’s not uncommon for patients to deal with multiple doctors and facilities in the course of a treatment regimen. Technology facilitates communications between various clinicians and facilities. Having all of a patient's medical records in one centralized, easy-to-access system can ensure that all caregivers know the patient's treatment history, current medications and prescriptions. This helps eliminate errors or adverse reactions in overlapping or sequential treatments. 
  • Along these lines, technology can specifically help reduce medication errors. Records of what has already been prescribed, patient allergies or previous reactions to medication as well as other data can be used to greatly reduce the likelihood of errors. 
  • When it comes to prescriptions, follow-up appointments and other related communications, an OmniChannel approach to patient engagement consisting of text messages, email, automated phone reminders and even phone calls by a live nurse can go a long way in ensuring that patients are following their care instructions — both at the time of discharge, and once they’re recovering at home.
  • Secure online portals have shown significant success in getting patients more involved in their own care, positively impacting overall care and outcomes.

In today’s healthcare environment, technology-based tools, like Conduent’s Midas Analytics, help healthcare providers use data and predictive analytics to help reduce readmission rates and minimize penalties under the ACA.

The Cost of Care Toolpack that is part of the Midas system provides information that hospitals and other providers can use to spot trends in cost data, allowing insights that can lead to actionable solutions and improvements in both patient outcomes and the cost of care. The Readmission Penalty Forecaster allows providers to see what the projected penalty is for violations up to two years in advance and make changes to specific care actions and processes to reduce those penalties. Health systems can glean this data for the individual hospitals over the six cohorts as well as roll-up data for the corporation overall.

The new road ahead

Like most industries, the road ahead for healthcare management and patient treatment will be intertwined with digital technology-based solutions.

These advancements provide a means to manage and analyze data to improve patient outcomes and lower the cost of treatment, boosting the bottom line for hospitals and other healthcare providers. Facilities that embrace digitally driven technology solutions and incorporate them into their management process will be the ones that thrive and prosper in the coming years — with the best patient outcomes.

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Conduent’s Midas Analytics solution offers a patient safety module that helps hospitals and other healthcare providers report and manage safety incidents — assisting in proper reporting, documentation, workflow management, measurement against performance benchmarks and fostering practices that help improve patient safety. 

 

About the Author

David is the Vice President & General Manager of Conduent Healthcare Provider Solutions.

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