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Demand for nurses continues to outpace supply. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that vacancies for registered nurses will grow by more than one million in the coming years.  Not great news for a number of reasons.

First, hospitals that provide a higher quality of care will receive reimbursement incentives, and hospitals that provide a lower quality of care will be penalized. Hospitals with lower nursing staff levels tend to have higher rates of poor patient outcomes including increased numbers of patients with pneumonia, shock, cardiac arrest, and urinary tract infections, according to research funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and others.

Secondly, even though there’s a recognized need for nurses―hospital budgets are increasingly scarce. For years, labor was the number one hospital expenditure representing more than half of expenses. However, in the past few years, hospitals have been forced to shift budgets into other areas including, among others, dramatically higher pharmaceutical costs.

Given the nursing shortage as well as the financial pressures facing hospitals in today’s healthcare reform environment, hiring more employees is not viable. As a result, healthcare organizations need to find ways to empower their nurses to work more efficiently. An automated referral process can help, especially when it is complemented by proven technology that starts a conversation with the patient regarding his/her procedure.

Appointment Scheduling: Just the Start of the Patient’s Journey

The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing notes that patient satisfaction rises—or falls—based on patients’ perceptions of care coordination. Consider a hospital that performs specialty procedures. Even before the referral is in hand, some patients may perceive they’re receiving inadequate care because they have many unanswered questions about the referral process.

As patients search for answers, call volume increases, however, more likely than not the call timing fails to coincide with a referral, so there’s no opportunity to schedule an appointment. As a result, nursing staff take on appointment scheduling duties. And, too often, this process results in time-consuming ‘telephone tag’ that extends delays in care while wasting valuable staff resources.

Most hospital executives do not need to be convinced of scheduling automation to transform the efficiency of scheduling appointments. They are well aware that with nursing staff already stretched thin, the traditional approach to appointment scheduling increases stress and dissatisfaction for both patients and nurses. Through an interactive voice response (IVR) phone call (email, text or voicemail) for example, patients have the option to schedule immediately or “call” back at their convenience.

Using Scheduling as an Opportunity to Engage Patients and Boost Satisfaction

One hospital specialty unit that adopted IVR combined with patient engagement technology saw a significant improvement in appointment setting. Previously, nursing staff would make multiple calls over the course of a week to reach a referred patient; with the IVR scheduling, calls now reach 59 percent of referrals, often within 24 hours. The result? Nursing staff has more time for face-to-face interactions with patients and patients get needed care faster—both factors that boost patient satisfaction and improve health outcomes.

Additionally, in this example, engagement went a step further with follow-up communications that helped patients understand what the procedure entails and how to prepare for it. This advance knowledge helps alleviate patient anxiety, also positively impacting patient satisfaction.

Lastly, once the referral appointment has taken place, hospitals need to ensure that all results get communicated back to the referring physician and patient. A patient engagement solution that integrates with clinical workflows ensures that the right information gets to the right people.

Striving Toward the Golden Trifecta: Improved Outcomes, Reduced Costs and Increased Patient Satisfaction

Hospitals face many pressures as they strive toward the golden trifecta of improving the patient care experience, improving population health and reducing healthcare costs. Once the referral process is automated, staff are freed up to do more important tasks. Hospitals need to also consider the quality and consistency of the conversation, and consider moving beyond simply automating referrals and scheduling, and also providing information on how to prep for the procedure and what to expect during it automatically after the procedure is scheduled.

Nurses now no longer need to call with advice on how to prep, which saves them time and allows them to focus on patients who need their attention the most. By standardizing the referral process and leveraging flexible, automated patient engagement technology, the hospital’s goals can be realized efficiently and cost-effectively. 

See for yourself how a proven solution can help you.