Thursday, June 09, 2011

Reaching out to patients in their homes

This is another in my occasional series about companies that are inventing new processes or leveraging expertise from other industries to enter the health care field.* This post is about outreach to patients and consumers in their homes. The key is offering this service in a cost-effective, standardized manner, keeping costs down, but ensuring that the value of information offered is high and leaving the customer more satisfied and loyal.

OnProcess Technology is a firm that provides reverse logistics management to other firms. This is a term I never heard until recently, but it is an important aspect of inventory control. The simplest example is that cable TV box in your house. When you discontinue service, how does the box get back to the manufacturer? Likewise, when a firm has placed some technological wizardry in someone's home or business, and the customer does not use it, how do you get information to the customer so the firm can optimize the value of the placement? Those two lines of business -- reverse logistics and remote customer service -- are OnProcess' specialties, and the company has been quite successful.

The folks there noticed that there are aspects of health care delivery that could use similar proactive outreach expertise, and they have created Reinforced Care to offer it. Their immediate market niche is to reduce hospital readmissions while improving the quality of patient care post-discharge.

Most people in the hospital world have come to accept the idea that contacting a patient shortly after discharge is likely to reduce the likelihood of readmission, but most hospitals are not set up to carry out that task. By outsourcing this function to Reinforced Care, the function is carried out systematically (in a multitude of languages) and in a manner designed to reduce variation, achieving a reduction in this important measure.

But there is a secondary advantage: The patients provide immediate feedback on service problems they experienced in the hospital, permitting hospital management to do "service recovery" before the patients receive their Press Ganey satisfaction survey. The result is a higher level of satisfaction, a metric that will be increasingly important with regard to reimbursement from Medicare and private insurers.

Eliza Corporation is also in the business of contacting patients, but in different way. The company uses speech recognition software that makes it possible for a computer to carry on a conversation with people over the phone (also in many languages). Employed by a health plan or a multi-specialty practice, for example, Eliza helps engage members in health and benefit topics and drive healthier behavior. The firm has a rules engine that allows the message to be tailored to the population.

The folks at Eliza understand that the choices available to consumers are overwhelming, especially with regard to benefit design and healthy living. The outreach function they offer helps people understand the options before them, in a manner more cost-effective that that traditionally available to insurance companies and physician practices.

These are but two examples of firms that have started to fill in the communications gap in this field. By enabling patients to be better consumers, the companies will help save money and improve the quality of care offered. As financial risk is reallocated in the health care world, services like these will be come more and more valuable to providers. Even before that shift occurs, though, providers with a broad view of patient quality and cost-effectiveness will take advantage of this new range of services.

* As always, I will disclose any financial interest I have in companies I discuss. I have none in these cases.


Anonymous said...

At first glance you would think these automated conversations would be a loser, since people hate interacting with the automated menus in Dr.'s offices, for instance. However, there is evidence that patients like to interact with robots in the patient care setting. So perhaps the difference is in whether the device is there to help you, or obstruct you.
The other beauty of it is that one can be absolutely sure the message delivered is standardized, without a human employee going off-script or an unfortunate interaction of personalities on the phone.
And you don't have to pay it a salary or health care benefits.

One part of me cringes that it has come to this, while the other applauds its efficiency.

nonlocal MD

Anonymous said...

I agree entirely with the thought of using an outsourced vendor to help hospitals extend their existing relationships into the home post discharge. With technology and communication norms changing as rapidly as they are, how does a hospital keep up with the best medium, content, and frequency to reach out to a patient to help them stay healthy? do you send texts, emails, phone, smart phone app to a certain patient population? how about in 2 years? Hospitals should focus on care and let others help them communicate that care most effectively.

Thanks for writing about this topic.