Preventing Readmissions through Virtual Care

top_blog_3.jpgA recent post on the Microsoft in Health Blog (read full blog post here) expounded the idea of using predictive analytics to curb readmissions and length of stay (LOS). However, predictive analytics only serves to identify patients at risk for readmission, without effectively offering a solution to prevent the readmission in the first place. What predictive analytics is really telling us is that our current processes are insufficient.

If we want to effect real, transformative changes to the present healthcare system and make it work for us, we need to find a way to address unnecessary patient visits in four key areas: readmissions, admissions, ER visits, and office visits.

For the purpose of this discussion, we’ll focus on readmissions and address the other topics in later articles. The crux of our argument is this: virtual care is much more effective than brick-and-mortar care.

Simply put, virtual care is a care delivery model that describes a set of interventions, or ways of caring for people, that empower patients to manage their own care. The majority of care takes place in the patient’s home rather than the hospital. In the virtual care model, patients benefit from online resources and access to practitioners via phone, email, or even through videoconferencing. The care provider takes on the role of a coordinator or a coach, someone who passes down tools and expertise so the patient can learn to manage their own disease.

If patients can manage their own care, they’ll have less need to visit the emergency room. And when emergencies arise, hospitals will be better prepared to handle them because they’ll be using their resources more efficiently, and spending less time and effort on patients who can now take care of themselves.

A comprehensive online portal will be critical to the success of the virtual care platform. An online portal gives patients the ability to access lab summaries and test results from home, or speak to a care provided as needed. A responsive communication system that provides access to a care provider 24/7/365 is crucial, because if patients can’t get ahold of their doctors, they will default to the ER.

Getting patients involved in their own care extends beyond basic treatment. We can leverage online registries in conjunction with social media networks to get patients to log on and share BKMs among themselves. Social groups are especially effective for patients with chronic illnesses to share their experiences and offer support.

Perhaps the simplest, most important thing we can do is to promote medication adherence. In other words, take your medicine. This post won’t drill down into the methods for how we can encourage patients to take their medicine, but any virtual care initiative should investigate the reasons why patients rationalize not following up or not following through with their medication regimen, and establish viable countermeasures for it.

The core technological component of the virtual care initiative will be a cloud-based IT infrastructure that allows you to gather and share data with patients in a secure and easy-to-consume format. If we’re serious about increasing efficiencies and reducing unnecessary patient visits, then the Intel Healthcare IT Peer Network is a great starting point for getting in touch with other healthcare IT professionals and sharing ideas. You can also tap resources and how-to guides on the Intel® IT Center to start planning out your virtual care data center.

After addressing readmissions, the next step will be to look at admissions, ER visits, and finally office visits. The goal here is to improve access at much lower costs while providing the same quality of care and convenience that patients have come to expect in every other aspect of their digital lives.

What questions do you have?

Mark Blatt is the Worldwide Medical Director at Intel