Staying in Touch with Patients Pays Multiple Dividends
Nov 28, 2011 |
The ability to stay in touch with patients after they leave your practice has never been more readily available than today. Whether through home-based monitoring devices or simple email and follow-up phone calls, keeping in contact benefits both patients and physician practices.
“[Staying in touch with patients] is extraordinarily important because it helps to build rapport with the patient,” says Jennifer Greenfield, nutrition expert and doctor of chiropractic at the Raleigh, NC-based Center for Chiropractic & Wellness. “I think patients are desiring a relationship with their health care provider rather than being left feeling disconnected.”
Connecting with patients
Virtual Health, a health and wellness service provider, has begun using the FDA-cleared Intel-GE Care Innovations Guide platform to enable patients to capture vitals when at home. That information is then transposed into a web-based patient portal where a senior patient can choose to share with a family caregiver. The platform also enables physicians to remotely monitor patient vital signs and engage the patient using video-conferencing technology.
“Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for the senior, the family caregiver and also the physician to have accurate and timely information to help enhance the care for the senior,” says Alex Go, CEO of Virtual Health.
But he points out that staying in touch is not limited to the senior population. It’s about remaining in contact with anyone who has a chronic illness, such as diabetes, who could benefit from a rigorous program.
The benefits, Go says, are two-fold. One is enhanced patient care. He refers to the shift taking place in health care to Accountable Care Organizations or the medical home model.
“In that type of model, the use of telehealth as part of their practice for the patients who need it the most, the sickest of the sick, will enhance physicians’ ability to monitor patients as patients go home,” Go says. “And so, as they go home, the ability to reduce readmission rates using telehealth is going to be top of mind, because it will have an overall improvement in costs and spending in health care.”
The other benefit is to a medical practice’s bottom line, which may not seem readily apparent since telehealth is not considered a reimbursable visit by Medicare, Medicaid or any major insurance carrier. However, Virtual Health has that covered.
“We believe in the relationship between patient and physician so much that we’re going to be the one reimbursing for that telehealth visit, to help define a patient’s care plan,” Go says. “We will reimburse physicians for their (telehealth) visit under fair-market value.”
Caring fosters adherence
Greenfield, who stays in touch with patients via phone and email — though email is her medium of preference — says that most patients want information and guidance. She either phones patients the first night after treating them, or sends out an email within one week.
“It’s vital in order to keep connected with them, and let them know that if they’re struggling with making the changes or following the recommendations that I’ve made, they can rely on me to help them,” she says.
Staying in touch also enhances her practice. Greenfield estimates that approximately 85% to 90% of the patients that come to see her are referrals from other patients.
“That’s a very powerful message, that they trust you enough to encourage a friend or family member to come to your practice,” she says. “That’s huge.”
Recently, Greenfield had two patients wish her a happy anniversary, because they’ve been with her for one year. One of those patients has happily embraced keeping connected, diligently following up with Greenfield.
“Prior to my appointment with [the patient] once a month, she sends me an email to give me an idea of what the month was like, and that just helps me help her even more,” Greenfield says. “It’s a continuous feedback loop. We’re working as a team.”
Greenfield acknowledges that staying in touch with patients after they leave the practice following an exam takes time and effort — “It takes time at night or on the weekend to send patient email” — but believes the benefits far outweigh the costs.
“It’s a win-win relationship,” she says, and points out that whether staying in touch means sending frequent email or utilizing home health monitoring devices, “it’s empowering to patients to take control of their health too. By empowering patients to take control of their health, they’re going to be more independent, and in my opinion, in the long run, healthier than someone who is not able or willing to do that.”