Simple smart idea saving $700,000

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A 15 minute phone call saved a health fund $700,000. Picture: Ryan McVay

Sue DunlevyNews Corp Australia Network

A SIMPLE 15 minute phone call to check on the health of people after they are discharged from hospital has saved a major health fund $700,000.

HCF’s My Health Guardian program reduced the number of patients being re-admitted to hospital by nearly one third and kept premiums lower than they would otherwise be.

Under the program a registered nurse calls the patient as soon as possible after hospital discharge, to provide support during the critical transition period.

The nurses ensure patients understand any new medications the hospital prescribed, check if the patients are in pain or bleeding and whether they have relatives or neighbours caring for them.

“We talk about how the patient feels and if we identify anything that is not going well we investigate it further, we go over their discharge instructions and do a medication review,” said Margaret Robinson, one of the nurses who works on the program.

“With medications sometimes things are doubled up and there is a risk of overdoses or under doses, sometimes we find there is paracetamol in two of their medications.

“We talk about signs and symptoms and if they are worsening.

“If someone has shortness of breath or chest pain or bleeding we make arrangements to deal with that, get in people to follow them up at home check.”

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There are around 600,000 hospital readmissions per year. Picture Thinkstock

There are around 600,000 hospital readmissions per year. Picture ThinkstockSource:ThinkStock

High hospital readmission rates contribute to over 600,000 potentially preventable hospitalisations per year and if they can be avoided health fund premiums would be lower.

There would also be more hospital beds that could be used to clear waiting lists for elective surgery.

Research on the effectiveness of the program on just 3000 HCF members published in the Australian Health Review found the program had saved the health fund $700,000.

The researchers say lack of education on about how patients and families should manage the health condition after hospital discharge was a key factor in many hospital readmissions.

Discontinuity of care and communication gaps between hospital staff and general practitioners also complicated the patient’s health care.

HCF’s Chief Benefits Officer Cindy Shay said the program focused on people who had chronic illnesses.

When hospital nurses routinely ring people to check on their health after they were discharged they just checked on patient pain or about the reason they were admitted to hospital, she said.

HCF’s program looked at all the patient’s health problems.

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Medication mix ups are one of the key reasons people go back to hospital. Picture Thinkstock

Medication mix ups are one of the key reasons people go back to hospital. Picture ThinkstockSource:ThinkStock

If a patient was diabetic, HCF nurses asked questions about blood sugar readings because anaesthetic and viruses can send readings higher.

HCF nurses advised what the patient should eat to bring down ketone levels, she said.

Another Health Life for Weight program run by HCF has reduced the need for knee surgery in some patients, she said.

The fund is investigating using technology in smart phones to improve the program in the future.

“Our goal has been to identify ways of reducing rates of potentially avoidable hospitalisations, which we know plays an essential role in improving patient outcomes, eases pressure on hospitals and increases the health delivery system’s quality and efficiency.”

HCF’s program is free support service to eligible members and helps them manage their chronic conditions with tailored assistance, which includes easy-to-follow health action plans, telephone support from registered nurses, access to health coaches and SMS or email reminders about screenings and GP appointments.