As providers continue to evolve away from fee-for-service healthcare and towards a value-based care system that emphasizes results over volume, patient education is becoming more important than ever. Value-based healthcare’s focus on outcomes and, consequently, on what happens outside of the “four walls” of the healthcare organization, requires a renewed focus on patient education to help combat chronic illnesses, increase preventative care, reduce readmissions and lower expenses.
When it comes down to it, an informed patient who understands their condition and corresponding treatment plan (and is motivated to adhere to this plan) is one of the most important factors in achieving the goals of value-based healthcare. Here are four reasons why patient education should be a strategic priority for healthcare organizations across the nation.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) noted that by 2018, 50 percent of all Medicare reimbursements should be tied to value-based care. The HSS also wants value-based reimbursements for 2016 to come to 30 percent—in other words, the HSS plans for healthcare organizations throughout the country to begin transitioning away from fee-for-service and towards value-based care. With the traditional fee-for-service model, providers received compensation based on volume: they’d see as many patients as possible, and order tests and procedures without regard to cost.
With value-based care, providers will begin to focus more so on evidence-based medicine, preventative and tailored treatments, and, of course, patient education, in order to increase quality of care while also keeping expenses down. Increasing patient education efforts through social media campaigns, text-based outreach platforms, informative web videos, email marketing, podcasts, community lectures, and brochures are examples of inexpensive means for a provider to adapt to the new value-based model without having to completely restructure their organization.
Preventing Chronic Illness
Back in 2012, roughly half of American adults—or approximately 117 million people—were diagnosed with one or more chronic illnesses or health conditions. In fact, that year, one out out of every four adults had two or more chronic conditions. Currently,approximately 133 million Americans suffer from one or more chronic illnesses like diabetes, depression, or asthma—and the numbers are only increasing. Seventy to 80 percent of total health care costs are directly tied to the treatment of chronic illnesses. In short, the treatment of chronic illnesses is a major concern for the American medical community.
One of the most successful means of combating chronic illnesses is through patient education. Certain diseases, such as diabetes, can’t be treated through medical attention alone; patients require self-management, such as proper diet, to treat these illnesses as well. Studies have shown that patient education delivers results. A review of over 40 studies on diabetes patients noted that when providers encouraged “patient-oriented interventions,” patients’ health improved, and some even established positive glycemic control. Patient education should be viewed as a strategic weapon in the fight against the progression of chronic diseases in the United States.
Unnecessary patient readmission is a costly issue that currently plagues our nation’s healthcare system. In fact, it’s estimated that these readmissions cost the U.S. government roughly $17 billion each year. Additionally, it’s estimated that one out of every five Medicare patients will be readmitted into a hospital within a month following treatment. Readmissions, either due to over-cautiousness, carelessness, or patients relapsing, are a sizable expense that healthcare providers need to avoid. But how can providers cut down on readmissions while also avoiding additional expenses?
Patient education can help providers to inform patients on the proper self-managed care needed to avoid readmissions. Additionally, with increased patient education efforts, providers can help patients understand the care setting most appropriate for their condition. Uninformed patients sometimes seek treatment in the Emergency Room (ER) for minor issues when an Urgent Care Center, for example, would be much more appropriate. The ER is one of the most expensive healthcare settings, and patients should only seek it out when necessary—and not for minor concerns. But patients continue to seek ER treatment in ever-increasing numbers. In fact, ER visits have risen steadily over the last few years. According to a survey of 2,098 ER physicians by the American College of Emergency Physicians, three-quarters of the doctors surveyed noted that visits rose steadily from January 2014 to March 2015. Additionally, one-quarter of doctors noted a “significant increases in all emergency patients” since 2014. Educating patients on when and where they should seek treatment will help to streamline the overall healthcare process and lower overall ER visits.
Primary care doctors are increasingly short on time. Since fee-for-service care is structured around the concept of treating as many patients as possible, doctors usually try to squeeze in a high volume of patients during their workday. In fact, in 2014, general practitioners and family physicians reported seeing an average of roughly 90 patients each week. It’s typical for doctors to also schedule short, 15-minute appointments, but some physicians try to keep appointments to no longer than 11 minutes. These short appointments not only make it difficult for patients to communicate with their doctors, but doctors are becoming burned-out with the rapid-paced appointments: A 2012 study noted that 30 percent of doctors between the ages of 35 and 49 plan to retire within the next five years.
With value-based care, doctors will begin to treat fewer patients, focusing more so on achieving positive results as opposed to booking a steady stream of appointments. However, in order to help doctors free up their time and avoid burnout, healthcare providers should focus on increased patient education. Informed patients will ask fewer and more pointed questions, and they’ll have a better idea of what’s ailing them, which will help to keep appointments short. Lastly, relapses and readmissions should decline, helping to free up doctors’ schedules.
Higher Quality of Life
Lastly, patient education delivers results, and after becoming educated about their conditions and required treatments, patients generally have a higher quality of life. For example, Gallup polled a group of patients who received medical device implantation. For the patients who “knew what to expect after surgery” (i.e. they received effective patient education), 72 percent were satisfied with their results, and only 8 percent reported problems after the device implantation. For the patients who didn’t know what to expect, only 39 percent were satisfied with their results, and 27 percent reported issues. Informing a patient—or, in other words, educating them properly regarding their treatments or illnesses—helps to improve their overall quality of life.
As the nation’s healthcare reorients towards value-based care, patient education will become especially critical. When used correctly by providers, patient education can be a valuable tool, helping to increase efficiency and boost quality of care. Educating patients doesn’t have to take a great deal of additional time or effort. A thoughtful, patient-centered strategy coupled with the application of innovative technologies can make a significant impact. Patient education, thanks to the push towards value-based care, is taking its place as a strategic imperative for healthcare providers throughout the nation.
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