Vice President of Marketing, TeleVox Solutions, West Corporation, Mobile, AL
One of the greatest challenges of the modern healthcare industry is the need to balance quality care with costeffectiveness. Healthcare providers have a responsibility to try to obtain the best possible outcomes for patients, and they have a financial incentive to do this efficiently. This is particularly challenging when it comes to managing chronic diseases, which can generate immense long-term costs and significantly impact the health and lifestyle of patients. Given that 117 million adults have chronic diseases in the U.S. alone, the need for better and more cost-effective chronic care is quickly growing.
As with many healthcare challenges, an effective solution to this problem is communication. Patients often do not understand how to manage their conditions, and they want more support from providers. According to a recent West study, at least 70 percent of patients with a chronic condition would like more clarity on how to manage their disease, and 91 percent say they need help managing their disease. The first step to providing that support is for healthcare teams to communicate with patients more regularly, and to do so in ways that engage patients and are convenient for both patients and providers. The West study revealed that healthcare teams can use technology to stay connected with patients, monitor their conditions, and provide advice and interventions to keep them healthy. By leveraging technology for chronic disease management, healthcare providers can not only improve outcomes for chronic patients, but also control costs.
West’s survey asked providers to share what they do to keep track of their patients’ chronic conditions. Forty-two percent of respondents said that they ask patients questions during in-person visits. However, only 14 percent contact patients outside of the office for chronic disease management purposes. Another five percent use surveys to stay connected to patients and collect health status information. Finally, four percent of healthcare providers use text, email, or postal mail to present disease management information.
These responses clearly show that most providers are missing a prime opportunity to engage with patients between visits. While clinical meetings are critical, they fall short of giving patients the ongoing support they need to keep chronic diseases under control. The study found that 39 percent of chronic patients want help managing their diseases throughout their daily lives, and not just when they visit a doctor’s office. Intervention outside of a clinical setting allows doctors to help patients when they are most vulnerable, keep chronic conditions under control, and prevent costly hospital visits.
In addition to missing opportunities to give patients help when they need it most, providers are also failing to sufficiently deliver patient-specific information. Of the patients surveyed, 66 percent say that their provider does not give them personalized disease management information. Customized information is necessary to help patients adapt their daily routines to manage their conditions. Through targeted lifestyle changes, providers can help chronic patients stay healthy while minimizing their need for acute care and other costly treatments.
In providing generalized information and limited communication, providers are not necessarily neglecting their patients. Many sincerely want to offer more targeted care, but are not sure how to efficiently do so given their existing resources. But, as West’s study reveals, there are a number of different strategies that medical practitioners can use to enhance communication, including utilizing survey check-ins and biometric monitoring.
One of the simplest ways to collect information from patients outside of office visits is to use automated surveys. When properly designed, surveys can deliver information about symptoms patients are experiencing, pain levels, whether patients have questions about managing their disease, and what the medical team can do to support disease management. Based on this information, providers can determine which patients are having the most trouble with their conditions and how they can respond accordingly.
Conducting automated surveys is a relatively simple matter. Most providers already have appointment reminder technology in their offices that they can use to send emails, text messages or voice messages that include survey prompts. Patients who receive the survey invitations can respond instantly. Responses will immediately travel to the provider, and any information that suggests a patient is at risk will trigger a warning. Providers can then respond quickly when a patient is in danger to reduce the rate of complications and minimize the cost of care.
Another way providers can establish a communication loop with patients is by using monitoring technology. Many medical professionals have expressed interest in biometric monitoring tools, or devices that measure patients’ health remotely. These include blood glucose meters, heart rate monitors, blood pressure cuffs, and other devices that track health data and send it to providers. As with surveys, if monitoring devices detect anything that suggests a patient is in danger, they can send the provider a warning that elicits an immediate response.
Traditional one-way monitoring devices have been limited to sending health information from the patient to the provider. Emerging, two-way monitoring technology allows providers to easily deliver information to patients. Whether by automating the system to send pre-set responses or using it to converse with patients, two-way devices encourage full engagement between providers and the patients they serve.
When asked whether two-way monitoring devices would be useful, 62 percent of providers responded that they would be very useful, and another 32 percent said they would be somewhat useful. Only six percent did not see any use for them. Both one- and two-way devices are popular among patients, with 50 percent finding the former useful and 58 percent wanting the latter.
Besides adopting new monitoring devices and sending out automated surveys, there are a number of simple changes that healthcare providers can make to improve chronic care and control costs. These include:
- Identifying At-Risk Patients: Providers should utilize their electronic health record technology to assess their patient population and identify the individuals who are most likely to need targeted support. In addition to looking at clinical factors, providers should note that survey responses indicate patients who have been diagnosed with their chronic condition within the last six years typically require more support. By identifying patients that may need extra attention, providers can then prioritize communicating with those who face the highest risk.
- Considering Means of Contact: Medical teams need to be careful to use patients’ preferred communication methods when administering surveys, sending appointment reminders, or sharing targeted chronic disease information. This improves information accessibility and increases the likelihood that patients will engage and respond to communications.
- Tailoring Communications to Match Goals: Providers need to ensure that communications map to the goals of each patient. Some patients want to improve their health so they are able to spend more quality time with their family, others may desire more autonomy. Whenever possible, communications should be designed with unique patient goals in mind.
- Helping with Emotional Needs: Providers can perform outreach to support patients that are struggling to cope with their chronic illness. The majority of patients diagnosed with chronic diseases experience emotional stress related to their diagnosis. For example, this could be depression, anxiety, or other symptoms.
With more than half of American adults suffering from chronic diseases, the healthcare system’s financial viability, and the financial health of healthcare providers, depends on effective and efficient chronic care. Through enhanced communication and targeted support, providers can see financial benefits and deliver better outcomes to patients.