Healthcare News & Insights

Focus on this area to reduce readmission rates

healthcare-worker-with-patientReducing readmissions is a complex problem. And since there’s so much pressure on hospitals to lower them, finding a viable solution is top priority. New research shows taking one simple step can make a big difference. 

What’s the step?

Prioritizing better patient communication.

According to an article in Harvard Business Review, a research team looked at several years of data from thousands of different hospitals. The biggest factor affecting readmissions – how well doctors and clinical staff communicate with patients.

The study results, which were published in research journal Management Science, showed if a hospital prioritized better patient communication, it could reduce its readmissions rate by 5%.

Patient experience & care

Researchers came to this conclusion by examining results from the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Health Providers and Systems (HCAHPS), the patient satisfaction surveys Medicare patients and their families fill out after hospital stays. Specifically, they examined the impact of two different measures:

  1. “Communication-focused” areas of the survey pinpointing how well clinicians are able to engage patients in meaningful conversations, and
  2. “Response-focused” areas corresponding with how well and how quickly clinical staff are able to respond to patients’ needs.

The results from the HCAHPS survey questions were compared to the quality of each hospital’s process of care and its performance with readmissions.

For further context, researchers looked at detailed case studies examining five acute care hospitals and their results.

Impact of communication

Although many hospitals spend the bulk of their focus on improving response times for patients’ needs, communication makes a bigger difference.

Researchers found that response times accounted for less than a 3% difference in readmission rates, compared to the 5% decrease caused by better communication.

Traditionally, communication skills aren’t stressed in medical education or continuing training. Clinical skills take top priority. But the positive impact of excellent communication makes sense. Patients who receive clear information from providers can be active partners in their recovery, which leads to better outcomes.

Even better news: It’ll cost facilities less money to improve the communication skills of clinical staff than other investments such as state-of-the-art amenities – or even different types of training.

Researchers discovered in facilities with excellent care quality, the cost per patient discharged to boost communication is $48, while the cost per patient to improve response times is $62.

Starting point

For these reasons, it’s worthwhile for your hospital to explore ways to get doctors and other staff regular training on how to communicate better with patients – not only for lower readmission rates, but for higher patient satisfaction scores, which are also becoming more significant for reimbursement.

It’s particularly important for any future communication training to address the best ways for clinicians to talk to people who may have low health literacy or are intimidated by the treatment process in general. Improving communication for this group of patients is likely to reap significant positive results.

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