Patient Engagement Strategies to Avoid Hospital Readmissions


The role of patient engagement in the American healthcare industry has been a subject of extensive debate, particularly in the context of reputation management for doctors. As healthcare professionals strive to enhance the overall healthcare experience for their patients, they are also acutely mindful of the impact of readmissions. Not only do readmissions tarnish the reputation of their medical practices, but they also contribute to the escalating net cost of the overall U.S. healthcare system.

The continuously rising healthcare costs, which have been a persistent trend for decades, pose significant challenges. The United States, with a total GDP of $21.3 trillion (IMF, 2019), allocates a substantial portion, nearly US $3.7 trillion, to its healthcare sector alone. This accounts for almost 17.5% of the total GDP. Consequently, the intersection of patient engagement, healthcare costs, and reputation management for doctors becomes crucial in addressing the multifaceted dynamics of the American healthcare landscape.

To cut down on such hefty expenses and reduce the load on the national exchequer, Obama administration enacted the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare Act) in 2010, it had three major objectives – one of them was to reduce healthcare costs. To achieve this, Obamacare Act announced a program, known as HRRP (Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program). HRRP suggests reducing the readmission rate of patients who have recently been discharged from the hospital. In other words, the healthcare provider to the patient should be sufficient enough to ensure that the patient does not need to get re-hospitalized again.

Now, what is re-admission? CMS defines readmission as getting admitted to a hospital within 30 days of discharge, usually for the same disease or ailment for which a person was hospitalized (CMS, Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP), 2019). Avoiding re-admissions is one of the ways to reduce healthcare costs. With the implementation of the Obamacare Act, the onus lies on the providers as to how can they prevent hospital readmissions. To avoid penalization under the HRRP, practices have taken dramatic measures, which has helped in reducing patient readmissions by up to 8% (CMS, 2016).

One way of reducing patient readmission rates is to inculcate patient engagement into medical practice. Patient engagement refers to involving a patient into his healthcare matters, based on the knowledge, skills, and abilities of that patient. According to HCAHPS (the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems), patient engagement helps in reducing the causes of readmission by around 35%. Therefore, this is something modern-day providers take very seriously. Following are some strategies that can be used by providers to reduce the likelihood of patient re-admissions:

  1. Know your patients – as much as possible


KYC (Know Your Customer) is a common marketing term taught to the business students, these days. Here, we are using a slightly modified version of this term, but we mean the same thing. A practice that knows its patients better would serve them better. This can be done by keeping a good, detailed good record of their patients. This will not only tell the practices about their patient’s medical history but will also their state their demographic and social information. Understanding a patient’s social determinants of health (SDOH) such as healthcare history, economic stability, education, and lifestyle habits will help practices in recognizing if he likely to get re-admitted again. Such patients often termed as high-risk patients, should be communicated in their native language and need to be guided in detail. Cross-checking should be done to ensure that the patient understands his health condition and the prescription he is supposed to take.

  1. Talk to your patients – as much as possible


Patients, especially those who have a chronic health history, are usually quite demotivated. No one wants to get readmitted now and then. Such patients need proper counseling so that they become re-energized. A provider should take an extra step and talk to the patient to satisfy any queries. Be informal yet professional in your communication with the patient. It only adds to the satisfaction of the patient, which itself is an important determining the quality in healthcare (Prakash, 2010).

Sometimes, the patients are completely unaware of their medical condition and why are they being prescribed certain medicines. Sometimes, the patients don’t know what to eat and what to avoid. A practitioner, keeping in mind the SDOH of his patient, needs to effectively communicate to the patient so that the patient not only feels mentally satisfied but also finds himself more involved in his healthcare.

  1. Give patients access to their medical records

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According to a Harris Poll conducted in 2014, a staggering 57% of the patients wanted access to their medical records. In the same poll, among those who have access to their medical records, 43% of the participants showed their desire to have access to their patient portal on their mobile devices. Most modern practices are using such software (EHRs), which offer a dedicated patient portal, where a patient can view and modify their information. Using these portals, patients can schedule their appointments, check their prescriptions and keep an eye on any other crucial medical detail. However, a good number of patients do not even know how to use these portals, since they can be a little complicated for the newbies. Therefore, practices should take special care to ensure that their patients are well-versed with their patient portals. Providers also need to make the right choice while their EHR Switch, which offers a user-oriented patient portal.

  1. Engage the patient’s family or friends


Sometimes, a patient may be too ill to understand his health conditions, or he may not be medically proficient at comprehending his treatment. Therefore, a provider is strongly advised to involve any the patient’s family members so that they may be guided as to how the patient should take his prescribed medications and how can they, as close acquaints, can help the patient in getting rid of his ongoing ailment.

  1. Better SOPs for Patient Discharge


Eventually, after a certain time period, a patient is meant to be discharged from the hospital. During the process of discharge, a provider should take every care to ensure that the patient does not need to be readmitted again. All the requisite tests need to be double-checked, all the necessary prescriptions should be duly communicated to the patient (and his family) and there should be minimum doubt in the medical condition of the patient at the time of his discharge.