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Here are five strategies managed care organizations and healthcare providers can use to support chronic patients and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of chronic care.
Studies have shown that a small portion of the patients in the U.S.-those who are sickest-are responsible for around half of the country’s healthcare costs. This is one reason why chronic disease management is so critical. Across the U.S., many patients are struggling to manage chronic diseases. According to a West survey, 39% of chronic patients admit they're only somewhat knowledgeable, at best, about how to effectively manage their chronic condition. By partnering with physicians and working to prioritize communication efforts that give chronic patients support between visits, managed care organizations can help improve chronic care. Involvement from managed care organizations is valuable because it can help ensure focus is directed toward proactive patient outreach that helps prevent serious and costly issues in chronic patients.
Here are five strategies managed care organizations and healthcare providers can use to support chronic patients and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of chronic care:
1. Create a pro-communication culture.
Ninety-one percent of patients with a chronic condition say they need help managing their disease. Support that comes only during 15-minute office visits is not enough. Chronic patients need information, encouragement and resources to help them manage their health on an ongoing basis. By extending support to patients between appointments, and proactively providing patients with information and techniques that can be used to manage chronic diseases, providers can improve health outcomes, reduce hospital admissions (and readmissions) and improve quality of life. Therefore, it is essential for providers to connect with patients and regularly reach out to offer support when and where patients need it most. Managed care organizations can promote and incentivize communication. By doing so they can motivate and drive providers to focus on patient outreach.
2. Expand the use of patient engagement technology.
Patient engagement technology is the tool that helps healthcare providers easily and efficiently connect with chronic patients at home and in their daily lives. Many providers use patient engagement technology to send appointment reminders to patients. But this technology can be used to do much more. By tapping into the full potential of their technology, providers can create and send many other types of chronic care related communications. For example, providers can send automated messages that notify patients with diabetes when they are due for foot and eye exams or A1c draws. They can send patients who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure (or obesity) tips and resources to educate them on how to improve their diet. Or they can send follow-up survey check-ins to patients who have been released from the hospital to determine if they are taking prescribed medications or struggling with symptoms that could lead to readmission. The point is, technology enables providers to deliver tailored communications to masses of patients in ways that can’t be done manually. Managed care organizations should work to ensure providers are using technology-enabled communications. And, they should encourage providers to expand their use of patient engagement technology for chronic disease management.
3. Tailor communications in order to arm patients with more disease-specific information.
Patients often report that the information they get from healthcare professionals is too general, and not targeted enough to their individual needs. To truly be useful, all patient outreach needs to be relevant. Unfortunately, just 12% of patients with a chronic health condition believe strongly that their healthcare provider is doing a good job of giving them disease prevention and management information that is tailored to their specific needs and condition. Healthcare teams can use information from electronic health records to stratify patients into populations based on disease state. After doing this, they can easily send appropriate communications to different patient groups. These targeted communications will help increase patient engagement and better prepare patients to manage their health.
Another part of tailoring communications involves taking into account patients’ unique goals. One patient may want to gain control of their health so they can add years to their life and spend time with their grandchildren. Another may want to be able to travel. And yet another may simply want to keep their independence and stay out of the hospital. By acknowledging the diverse goals of patients, and matching communications to care plans, providers can deliver more targeted and meaningful messages to engage and support patients.
4. Use engagement communications to proactively monitor patients and intervene when necessary.
Three-quarters (75%) of chronic patients want their healthcare provider to touch base regularly so they can be alerted if anything looks wrong with their health. To deliver the routine monitoring chronic patients want, providers can use their patient engagement technology and send automated surveys to keep track of patients’ health between visits. This strategy also allows providers to recognize issues earlier, escalate cases and intervene when necessary. Healthcare teams can use their patient engagement technology to create and send invitations to complete surveys to chronic patients. Then, based on patient responses, providers can contact patients, schedule appointments or intervene in other ways before serious issues arise. Managed care organizations can work with providers to encourage survey use for chronic patient monitoring. By doing so, managed care organizations can push for more proactive-rather than reactive-chronic care.
5. Push to enroll eligible patients in chronic disease management programs.
Finally, managed care organizations and healthcare providers should agree to prioritize patient enrollment in chronic disease management programs. Although providers have had opportunities to earn Medicare reimbursements for enrolling patients in chronic disease management programs for a few years now, an underwhelming number of providers have taken advantage of the opportunity. But there are numerous benefits to enrolling patients in formal chronic disease management programs, and providers who are adept at using patient engagement technology can use automated patient outreach to educate patients about those benefits. They can also send patients automated messages to invite them to enroll in a chronic disease management program, send enrolled patients messages to schedule monthly phone calls and provide other ongoing support.
Healthcare providers can help advance chronic care and assist chronic patients with disease management by leveraging technology-enabled communications. Developing communication guidelines, supporting adoption of best practices and technology use and providing incentives are some of the ways managed care organizations can work with providers to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of chronic care efforts.
Allison Hart is vice president of Marketing for TeleVox Solutions at West, where the healthcare mission is to help organizations harness communications to expand the boundaries of where, when, and how healthcare is delivered.