Automated emails can improve patient follow up, reduce readmissions

Could automated e-mails help strengthen physician-patient relationships, improve access and potentially save lives? Officials at Newport Orthopedic Institute in Newport Beach, California, were skeptical that such an impersonal technology could engage patients, according to an article from California Healthline.

But they were impressed by the results.

"There's a limited number of resources in healthcare. If you do 500 joint replacements in a year, how do you follow up all of those patients every day?" said Newport CEO Cara Waller. The technology "allows you to direct your energy to people who need the handholding."

To use the system, healthcare providers can write their own content or use wording suggested by the vendor to populate the daily emails that help guide patients from surgery prep to recovery. In addition to providing information relevant to patient-specific milestones of the surgery process, the system allows doctors to gather critical information from patients.

A "yes" answer to an email asking a patient if he or she has calf pain, for example, would trigger staff to bring the patient in to check for blood clots--before the patient lands back in the hospital or worse.

Although the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services only penalizes hospitals for excessive 30-day readmissions, primary care offices face increasing pressure to help reduce readmissions.

Other medical centers using the technology to "automate empathy" include the Cleveland Clinic, Kaiser Permanente-Southern California and the University of California in San Francisco, according to the article.

In addition to alerting doctors about situations in which patients need more care, email questionnaires can also eliminate the need for as many in-person follow-up appointments, saving doctors time and improving access for patients.

To learn more:
- read the article