How Phone Calls From Nurses Reduce Patient Readmissions

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

A recent study published in Health Affairs found that quick phone calls from a nurse can reduce patient readmissions and cut $1,225 in costs per patient. The researchers tracked a low-resource veteran’s program that uses registered nurses for quality transitional care, who call high risk patients once a week for four weeks (or until the patient transferred to a primary care doctor) for an open-ended discussion. In these phone calls, nurses answered questions about medication and symptoms and side effects, often explaining the importance of medication adherence. Patients that are considered “high risk” have dementia, are 65 years or older, and live alone or have had a previous hospitalization in the year.

Almost all of the patients participate in the nurse phone call program because the goal is to “more seamlessly bridge the patient’s journey from the hospital to the home and to primary care,” according to Amy Kind, assistant professor of medicine (geriatrics) at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, the university behind the study. She adds, “Patients don’t mind a phone call.”

The simple act of calling patients to follow up after a visit has saved the hospital almost $750,000 in a year and a half. Patients saw 11% fewer 30-day readmissions  Nurses can reach a lot more patients by phone call than by home visits and can provide their patients with the reassurance they may be looking for during that crucial one-month period after a hospital admission. While patients will typically receive medication descriptions and instructions at the time of the prescription, they may have questions, may be worried, or may be experiencing unexpected side effects and need someone to talk to. These phone calls keep patients on their medication, explain symptoms, and reduce the need for readmission.

The end result is a more cost effective hospital, but also a less stressed hospital staff and healthier patients, a win-win-win situation. The hope is that the same program can be used in larger patient populations and significantly help resource strained hospitals around the country.