Published in the February 2012 issue of Today’s Hospitalist
What if your hospital could call all your patients after discharge to make sure they understand their discharge instructions and have a follow-up appointment? And what if those calls could be done automatically, so nurses and case managers didn’t have to spend their days dialing for patients?
A product released last summer promises to help hospitals do just that. The Phytel Transition toolkit can take a list of discharged patients and place automated calls to them all. The system then analyzes patient responses and creates lists of individuals who need a follow-up call from a nurse or case manager.
Russell Olsen, Phytel’s director of product management, notes that hospitals can have the automated call system ask all discharged patients the same basic questions, like whether they have made a follow-up appointment or filled their prescriptions.
But with hospitals poised to be punished for preventable readmissions, some hospitals are targeting the conditions that are most likely to bring patients back into the hospital, like heart failure and pneumonia. Phytel Transition can extract details from patients’ discharge summaries and tailor questions to a particular diagnosis or problem.
How effective are automated phone calls? Mr. Olsen says that because Phytel has been producing similar products for the outpatient setting since 1997, it knows how to reach patients.
“We have a very high rate of engaging patients with follow-up,” he explains. “Once we make the connection, most patients will take the interactive survey.”
In part, that success is due to the fact that the calls include the name of each patient’s hospital physician (such as, “Dr. Smith, who saw you in the hospital, wants to know how you’re doing since you left.”) “The voice of the physician is the most trusted voice in America,” Mr. Olsen adds. “When patients pick up the phone and hear that their doctor is asking them to do something, the engagement level is extremely high.”
Hospitals like the technology because it automates routine tasks that can drain clinicians’ time. “There’s a lot of discussion in health care about having people practice at the top of their license,” Mr. Olsen says.
“We’re automating aspects of discharge follow-up to allow that.” While hospitals would like to personally follow up with every patient, he notes, “It’s not physically possible to hire enough people to do that. Our solution helps hospitals provide more consistent, repeatable care to more patients.”