Reducing Readmissions Through Engagement Strategies

Various estimates put the annual cost of hospital readmissions in the tens of billions of dollars.  Many of the readmissions that occur in the U.S. each year are avoidable, and hospitals have been taking steps in recent years to reduce readmissions whenever possible.

Unfortunately, a lot of unnecessary financial burden still exists as a result of preventable readmissions. To combat readmissions and related costs, some healthcare professionals are turning their focus toward patient engagement. In fact, a recent survey shows that healthcare providers feel more communication is the key to better care, so they are increasing outreach and engagement efforts. This is positive news, because patient engagement offers several opportunities for improving clinical outcomes and reducing care costs.

The 30-day window after a patient has been discharged from the hospital is known for being a period of vulnerability. Half (50 percent) of the acute care professionals West surveyed said they believe that a lack of follow up by hospitals during this time is a leading factor that contributes to readmissions. Another 32 percent said that insufficient communication after discharge is at least partly to blame for readmissions.

 It is not just providers that feel inadequate communication is a problem. Patient feedback collected through Medicare’s HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) confirms that patients who have been hospitalized want to see more and better communication post-discharge, with half of patients saying they felt confused about some part of their care instructions after leaving the hospital.

Because many things can go wrong in the days and weeks after a patient has been discharged, medical professionals need to connect with patients in order to monitor their health and proactively address issues before they escalate into larger problems that cause patients to be readmitted.

Nielsen Survey Shows Patient Demand for Text

he proof of patient demand for text messaging continues to pile up.

An article from The Washington Post shared recent Nielsen survey findings around how Americans use digital technology in their healthcare. Overall, the data shows that while many providers have been slow to adopt the technology for their patients, those same patients are craving those digital opportunities for interaction.

The Nielsen survey found that among patients ages 18-34, more than four in 10 want text reminders about appointments.

A recent case study from Vanderbilt Medical Center has shown that offering text as an appointment reminder communication option has elevated patient response rates regardless of their delivery channel. After experiencing a 30% response rate when offering only automated phone calls to patients, offering the option of text has grown response rates among patients who want texts and those who still prefer phone calls. The patients who receive texts naturally respond at a higher rate (55%) because that’s the communication channel they prefer. And those patients who would still prefer to receive phone calls can keep that option in place. Since many patients who did receive calls have now moved to text, those who are left receiving calls now respond to messages at a 37% rate.

“We’re getting good results because our patients are making their own choice on how to be reminded,” says Brant Smith, Health Systems Analyst with Vanderbilt’s Capacity Management team.

Why Go Positive Preventative Reminders?

Why do patients choose to continue seeing a particular provider? ( and stay on track with treatment plans? ) Many times, it’s because that provider has proven their ability to deliver a high quality of care, and follow-up appointments are positive and supportive. Whenever possible, that earned trust should be on display in the outreach messages delivered to that patient. Providers can pull from their expertise and educate patients on why it is important for them to schedule a preventive exam or screening.

But there’s a little more to it than that. The effect of educating patients in preventative reminders can also depend on the tone you choose to address an issue. More specifically, focusing on the positive has proven to be more motivating than fear-based messages.

What types of outcomes could be mentioned as positive effects of better self-management? Feeling healthier, being happier with one’s appearance, having more energy and living longer are all popular motivational ideas.

Why do patients choose to stay on track with treatment plans or see a particular provider? Many times, it’s because that provider delivers a high quality of care. This high quality of care can be seen in follow-up appointments.

However, there are ways to continue care outside of appointments that improve self-management of the patients. Outreach messages or preventative messages, in between appointments, can allow providers to connect and educate patients.

Tone is an important part of the communication equation in preventative reminders. Patients are less motivated by fear-based communication. On the other hand, positive messages are proven to be more effective.

In the report Discussing Diabetes: The Essential Conversation That Could Change the Health of the Nation, when it comes to motivational factors, 73% of healthcare consumers surveyed said that a move toward pleasurable and positive outcomes would be most effective. In contrast, only 27% said that fear of pain and other negative consequences would be more motivational.

What can providers expect from positive self-management? Patients that have more energy, feel healthier, feel better about one’s appearance and living longer.

How effective communication and consumer technology are part of an Appointment Reminder Strategy.

The acceptance of consumer technology and effective communication can be used develop an appointment reminder strategy. A successful protocol can reduce missed appointments and help your patients stick to their treatment plans.  You can reach patients by: 

  • Adopting mobile phone based reminder communications

According to the Pew Research Center, 91% of adults in the United States own cell phones. Therefore, the most sure fire way to reach your patients is on this device. Cell phones, are often in close proximity to their owners, and the message can be delivered promptly.

  • Using multiple channels to communicate with patients

The benefit of communicating on multiple channels ensures the message is received correctly. Many cell phones and smart phones, have lines multiple ways of displaying information. These include email, text and voice messages. By using multiple channels, patients will have multiple reference points of information.

  • Communicating with patients in their preferred language

Although English is the primary language spoken in the United States, when it comes to matters of health, effective communication is paramount. Patients who speak English as a second language can benefit from information communicated in their native tongue. There is less likelihood for misunderstanding when one can confirm the date, time, and location of their appointment. 

  • Reaching out to patients at an ideal time of day

Receiving messages during the day, or in the early evening increases chances that the message will be heard, and the patient will confirm receipt of the message. Messages sent too early or too late in the day have a higher chance of being ignored or forgotten.

Effectiveness of SMS Appointment Reminders

Too much revenue being lost to patient no-shows, and appointment reminders, like postcards and personal calls are expensive and time consuming. Teletask Appointment Reminders enables you to efficiently deliver high volumes of patient phone, text and email reminders without overburdening your staff or breaking your budget. Not only do appointment reminders save healthcare professionals' time, Teletask Appointment Reminders reduce broken appointments by an average of 25-30%. You’ll keep patients on track with their care and retain that appointment revenue.

Our system can handle the logistics of delivering multiple message types for multiple appointments, and on multiple days. This is a complicated way of saying Teletask can take the burden out of setting each appointment or message and the follow-up. As the system handles the timing and the types of messages, your staff to focus on inter-personal communication.

Using multiple channels of communication ensures the information is accessible to the patient. We all used to receive postcards for upcoming appointments, and this was a nice gesture. However, smart phones, that we carry with us everyday enabled with text, email and voice messages, are now the most common location to store appointments. Teletask can seamlessly deliver, text, voice and emails messages without burdening your office's phone-lines or internet.

If the office is closed due to an emergency, our system can be accessed from off-site. This ensures, that even in an emergency closure, patients can be notified. This information, accessible with the proper credentials, ensures that staff can manage messages from any location with internet access.

In general, when using our appointment reminders, the day to day focus of the office will change very little.  Perhaps, the staff will spend less time leaving messages and following up, sending mail and more time delivering a high quality of care.



2017 is in full swing, and a recent MedData Group survey found that 29% of practices are planning to adopt automated reminder technology in the next 12 months. Is your practice among that group? If you are still undecided about adding automated communication to your practice, here are five indicators that it is time to make a move:

Your patients are asking for it.
Reaching busy, on-the-go patients is an ongoing challenge. Automated communication that allows patients to receive and respond to your message at their convenience is an excellent way to give your practice cutting-edge appeal and improve response rates. Give patients the choice of phone call, text message or email notifications to see your patient satisfaction scores go up and no-show rates go down.

You are not seeing many familiar faces.
If your practice is predominantly focused on attracting new patients, you may be neglecting your existing patient base and putting yourself at risk of losing them. Recalling “lost” patients with automated wellness reminders could uncover a large number of patients that simply forgot to schedule their next appointment. Giving patients an opportunity to give feedback outside of the practice with automated surveys could reveal an underlying service or process problem that may be costing you patients.

Your schedule is booked solid.
Though a full schedule is every practice’s dream, the reality is this makes it harder for patients to be seen often causing them to go elsewhere for faster service. Automated appointment reminders will consistently provide patients with ample time to cancellation or reschedule. If everyone confirms their appointment as scheduled, then great! But when patients need to make an adjustment, you can use advance notice of those cancellations to move other patients waiting to be seen up in your schedule and improve satisfaction.

You are located in an area susceptible to extreme weather.
Unexpected office closings and the resulting rescheduling of appointments can be quite a headache. Automated notifications safeguard patients affected by an unexpected closing from the dissatisfaction, confusion and sometimes risk of coming to the office when you are out. An automated notification system with flexible and customizable messaging allows you to include additional information such as your plans for rescheduling to help reduce an influx of calls once you reopen.

The phone rings too much.
Unexpected increases in call volume or decreases in staffing may mean a longer hold time for those calling your practice. If you use this time wisely, you can reduce the number of unhappy callers who hang up after being on hold too long and provide important information to patients about your practice and their treatment.