Communicate with patients

by Zack Budryk

Communication breakdowns are one of the most common causes of problems that lead to readmission, according to Cheryl Bailey, R.N., chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services at Cullman (Ala.) Regional Medical Center. During the discharge process, patients are usually more focused on leaving than the instructions they are receiving from their providers.

That's why the 250-bed Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire, Wis., educates patients upon admission on how to take care of themselves after discharge. As a result, "information isn't completely new to them at discharge," Sacred Heart quality resources director Julia Lyons told FierceHealthcare for the eBook Population Health Management: How to Manage High-Risk Patients.

Patients also need to learn the importance of taking their medications as instructed after discharge. Patients' failure to take prescribed medication is estimated to cost the U.S. healthcare system as much as $300 billion a year. Hospitals like Gottlieb Memorial Hospital of Loyola University Health System have taken steps to improve communications between inpatient pharmacists and patients. Gottlieb's clinical pharmacists educate patients on new medications before they're discharged, and the hospital allows patients and caregivers direct access to clinical pharmacists at any time during their hospital stay.

Even with an early start, this much information can be overwhelming for patients. Boston University Medical Center, as part of its Project RED initiative, uses the same education-from-admission strategy, but divides it day by day. For example, a nurse will discuss a patient's diagnosis with them one day, proper diet on another and review their medications on the third, as detailed in the Population Health Management eBook.

A toolkit published by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (ARHQ) also stresses the importance of communication between provider and patient in preventing readmission. Several of its recommended "mutually reinforcing actions" emphasize communication, including identifying and taking care of any language assistance that might be necessary, educating patients about their diagnosis and prescribed medication, reviewing options with patients and reinforcing the discharge plan over the phone.

Communication, however, doesn't end with discharge. Following up afterwards can be just as important. Click the next button to learn more.

Communicate with patients