By Emily Middour, Senior Vice President Growth and Development
The Emergency Department (ED) has traditionally been viewed as the “front door” to a healthcare system, a place where patients come in times of crisis and clinicians provide rapid response.
Hospital leaders are not accustomed to thinking of it as a base from which to support, improve upon, and expand their value-based care programs. Yet with so many challenges now facing hospital leaders, it’s time to change our perspective.
Rather than merely an entry point, the ED can be the central hub in a health system’s overarching accountable care and cost containment strategies. The key starts with a change in mindset. Hospital leaders must begin to see every patient journey through the ED not just as an isolated encounter, but as an integral part of the patient’s long-term care trajectory.
This blueprint won’t only improve hospital efficiencies and operations—it will help hospitals meet patients where they are, before, during, and after one of the most daunting experiences of their lives.
Below is a blueprint for change.
1. An Inclusive Post-Discharge Strategy
The traditional post-discharge landscape in most hospitals tends to be narrowly focused, with programs often zeroing in on specific patient groups. For instance, high-risk patients with chronic conditions such as congestive heart failure or diabetes might receive more meticulous follow-up, primarily because they are statistically more likely to be readmitted.
This approach, while effective for these groups, often overlooks the broader patient population. The status quo is selective engagements which, although well-intentioned, may inadvertently create gaps in care continuity for other patients.
Additionally, these post-discharge programs often rely on singular, traditional modes of communication. Automated voice calls or mailed letters might have been the gold standard in years past, but they might not resonate with younger generations. Equally, older patients might not be fully engaged by digital-only communications.
Enter the multi-channel approach. Drawing from strategies more commonly found in retail, multi-channel engagement meets the patient where they are. Instead of making the patient adapt to the hospital’s preferred mode of communication, the hospital adapts to the patient.
The benefits of such an approach are manifold:
- Improved Patient Satisfaction: When patients feel that their unique needs and preferences are being acknowledged, their overall satisfaction with the healthcare system improves.
- Reduced Readmissions: Continuous, personalized engagement can ensure patients adhere to post-discharge instructions, ultimately leading to fewer complications and readmissions.
- Enhanced Data Collection: Different channels can provide insights into patient behavior, preferences, and feedback, allowing hospitals to further refine their post-discharge programs.
- Efficient Resource Allocation: Understanding which communication channels are most effective allows hospitals to allocate resources more efficiently, ensuring that efforts are directed where they have the maximum impact.
- Building Long-Term Relationships: Consistent, tailored engagement fosters trust and loyalty, paving the way for long-term patient-healthcare provider relationships.
2. An Expedited Hybrid Care Model
The immediacy of the digital age has recalibrated patient expectations, extending into the realm of post-ED healthcare. Moreover, a patient’s journey doesn’t cease upon discharge from the emergency department; in many instances, it’s just beginning.
The linchpin of an expedited care model is a virtual group of RNs and MDs that can promptly address post-discharge concerns, enhancing patient engagement and optimizing resource use, all while preserving the integrity and reach of the hospital’s brand.
3. Complementary Strategic Partnerships
At a time when patient experience is paramount, hospitals must think critically about the partnerships they form. A patient’s journey through the healthcare system is influenced by every touchpoint, and external partners play a pivotal role in shaping these experiences.
Ensuring that these partners Complement, Not Compete, has multiple advantages:
- Unified Patient Experience: When external partners are in sync with the hospital’s ethos and brand, patients receive a seamless and consistent level of care and service.
- Boosted Brand Loyalty: If every partner a patient interacts with reinforces the hospital’s brand positively, it cultivates deeper trust and loyalty toward the hospital.
- Mitigate Channel Conflicts: By partnering with entities that prioritize the hospital’s brand over their own, there’s less risk of mixed messaging or competition for the patient’s attention.
- Streamlined Care Integration: Collaborative partners can more effectively integrate their services, leading to more efficient patient handoffs and reduced administrative friction.
4. Proactive Care Planning
It’s time to pivot from a reactive to a proactive stance. To do this, EM clinicians must be engaged in post-discharge planning.
By integrating our emergency medicine clinicians into the post-discharge planning process, hospitals can forecast patient needs with greater precision. Investing in advanced clinical tools and technologies can facilitate this without burdening our clinicians with added workflows. The aim? Spotting post-discharge clinical needs even before the patient leaves the ED.
5. Branding Beyond the ED Walls
Finally, the blueprint for managing population health must take recognize that at the heart of effective care is a human touch. Patients appreciate knowing their clinicians are concerned about ensuring they receive post or preventive care. Make it personal to their care journey and communication style and be prepared to act on the next episode of care. Data consistently reveals that post-care engagement boosts patient satisfaction and fosters loyalty.
By following the steps above, hospitals can transform the ED from an isolated, emergency care touchpoint into an invaluable asset in population health management.
If hospitals can reimagine their approach, we can ensure that the nation’s EDs not only address immediate health concerns but also anchor a long-term, comprehensive health strategy for every patient who walks through their doors.