Follow-up service helps patients and hospitals

Karen Cheung-Larivee

 Karen Cheung-Larivee

When you arrive to your hotel room, unpack and take a look at your accommodations, hotels--at least the nicer ones--give you a ring within 30 minutes to ask if you need anything. Did you forget your toothbrush? Do you want some fruit? Do you need a few bottles of water? And the staff helps you get those items lickety-split.

Wouldn't it be great if you got that same kind of call when you arrived home from the hospital?

That same service is taking hold in hospitals and other provider organizations around the country.

There are strong arguments that hospitals are not hotels. Still, many health systems have adopted the customer-centric servive tactics of businesses such as Walt Disney's theme parks and resorts and have found that following up with patients doesn't just ensure that their needs are met but can also save them money in the long run.

Follow-up calls are key protocol tools in both the Project BOOST and Care Transitions Intervention models, in which post-discharge provider contact is linked to improved care across settings.

In another example, a series of nurse-initiated calls, which primarily focused on medication adherence, to high-risk elderly patients at William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital resulted in 11 percent fewer 30-day readmissions. The Coordinated Transitional Care (C-TraC) program estimated it cut $1,225 in costs per patient.

Similarly, follow-up calls for more than 600 congestive heart failure patients discharged from Charleston (W.V.) Area Medical Center identified at-risk patients. Those CHF patients who responded to the calls had 25 percent fewer readmissions.

But I wonder if the call would lose its appeal if it wasn't a real human behind the telephone. According to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine last month, even automated calls prompted patients to fill their cholesterol prescriptions. It cost $1.70 per participant to make those calls, which resulted in 16.3 percent more patients filling their prescriptions.

Regardless of the initiator--nurse, doctor or robot--follow-up calls not only remind patients about their medications or where to find a primary care practitioner but also let them know they have a support system in their provider network. I'd love to hear other success (or even failure) stories about your hospital's interventions regarding post-discharge calls. - Karen (@FierceHealth / @KCheungLarivee)