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How post-discharge calls improved a Michigan health system’s overall HCAHPS ratings in just six months

Sparrow Health is mid-Michigan’s largest health system. It’s always been animated by a vision of patient-centered, evidence-based care—what it calls “The Sparrow Way.”

Part of this philosophy entails reaching out to patients after each care experience, to help them through their transition out of the hospital. In 2012, Sparrow’s leadership set their sights on one of their most ambitious goals to date: giving follow-up phone calls to every inpatient and emergency department and ambulatory-surgery patient.

That’s undeniably a worthy goal. Post-discharge calls ensure a safe transition for the patient, help prevent readmissions, and improve patient satisfaction and loyalty. But Sparrow Health boasts multiple hospitals, with thousands of beds between them. Contacting every patient that passes through the organization’s doors would take a massive institutional investment.

Undaunted, Sparrow Health attempted to tackle the job with internal resources. They trained over 700 nurses to make follow-up calls, and invested in expensive discharge-call software to track their progress.

Excitement from the staff powered the initiative to early success. They managed to contact 48% of patients in the first year of the program, an impressive result for a brand-new initiative.

However, nurses soon felt the strain. Juggling their nursing duties alongside their new roles as follow-up callers, they felt their enthusiasm fizzle out. Commitment to follow-up calls declined, and by 2014, contact rates dropped to just 13%.

The impact of a new partnership

Faced with a harried staff, Sparrow Health decided to partner with NRC Health.

The NRC Health Transitions program offers a complete platform to manage the follow-up process. Not only does the program contact patients within 48 hours of each care experience, but it also provides data-collection tools to manage each patient’s next steps and improve the process of care.

Sparrow Health saw sharp improvements from integrating the Transitions platform into their processes:

Logistical impact

Sparrow Health’s first effort at bolstering post-discharge calls required commitment from an enormous number of staff. More than 700 nurses felt pulled between two jobs. The effort was unsustainable.

Partnering with NRC Health solved this problem immediately. Through NRC Health’s platform, Sparrow Health could accomplish follow-up calls with just one in-house Patient Navigator to manage the efforts. Those 700+ nurses were now back to doing one job at a time.

And while nurses cared for patients, the Transitions program went to work contacting each patient—bringing Sparrow Health’s contact rate from 13% to 100%.

Targeted follow-up

This increased contact rate drew in troves of data that Sparrow Health could use to improve processes. Terry Rose, RN, MHA, Sparrow Health’s Director of Patient Experience, noticed the difference right away:

“With NRC Health Transitions, we are able to very quickly contact patients, identify any patient concerns and trends, and start to rectify situations and/or remove barriers to a smooth transition from the hospital—ensuring that the patient is safe and their experience was excellent, and even thanking them for their business.”

By ensuring that every patient received a phone call, and then capturing data from those calls, the Transitions program enabled Sparrow Health’s staff to identify and serve the patients who needed additional help.

For example, the Transitions calls revealed exactly which patients struggled to understand or obtain medications after discharge. Grasping this problem enabled targeted efforts at solving it. If a patient’s medications were supplied by the hospital, Sparrow Health’s Patient Navigator could clarify questions of administration and dosage; if the medications came from elsewhere, the Patient Navigator provided the necessary additional resources to the patient.

It didn’t take long for these and other process improvements to affect how patients felt about their Sparrow Health experience.

More satisfied patients

 The principle is well proven. Academic research has continually supported the positive correlation between post-discharge calls and improvements in patient satisfaction.

Research commissioned by Sparrow Health validated that link as well. Internal surveys found that patients who receive a discharge call are 17% more likely to report a clear understanding of discharge instructions, and are 15% more likely to report satisfaction with pain management and clinician communication.

And it did not take long for Transitions calls to have an effect on HCAHPS scores. In the case of Sparrow Health, the systematic outreach resulted in rapid, significant increase in overall patient satisfaction—a 3% increase in patient “Likely to Recommend” scores in just six months.

How can Transitions work for your organization?

Sparrow Health represents a textbook Transitions success story, because they take full advantage of the platform. Post-discharge calls give Sparrow Health actionable insights to use to improve their care, as well as to help patients through the obstacles that can emerge after hospitalization. They make exemplary use of the Transitions program’s capabilities, and their patients are grateful for it.

Would your organization benefit from utilizing NRC Health Transitions? We invite you to take a deeper look inside the Sparrow Health case study.