The United Hospital Fund is a nonprofit that is embarking on an important initiative. Their Difficult Decisions series explores the challenges that hospital staff personnel face in planning discharge.
The third in the series looks at the transition to post-acute care, usually to a Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF). And the study itself brought to light important insights for all providers, in understanding discharge planning, as well as patient transitions, more generally.
The most salient point in the study is, as Fierce Healthcare summarizes, that discharge planning presents profound obstacles for the hospital staff personnel who carry it out. Both administrators and staff very much have a goal of continuity of care. But the tools and structures that staff personnel encounter make the outcome of discharge planning fall short, many times.
For any of us who work in hospitals every day, none of this comes as a surprise. That said, there were several nuances in the study that were enlightening in exploring when balls get dropped in discharge planning -- and how we might improve that process.
Why Balls Get Dropped in Discharge to Skilled Nursing Facilities:
- Discharge plans are made without real input from the people carrying them out.
One thing that I loved about this study is that it was carried out by talking directly to the people who are actually doing the work, in order to understand the real challenges and opportunities they face. For that reason, I think the insights carry more weight than a study solely based on administrators, or findings from a think tank or conference. Similarly, discharge plans are sometimes coordinated "at the top" rather than allowing them to be shaped and reshaped by the medical team, across the continuum of care.
- Discharge plans are often static.
The status of a particular patient changes quickly and often without warning, which means that the discharge plan must change and evolve, too. A static plan won’t work. And one that’s created once and then executed by members of the care team, in their offices or even across institutions won’t work. That’s why a tool like iClickCare -- which uses telemedicine to support medical collaboration for care coordination -- is so crucial. As the patient's situation changes, the entire care team can continue to influence the discharge plan, communicate about status changes, and get multiple perspectives.
- There is little communication across institutions.
Although, in theory, a nurse at a Skilled Nursing Facility, or a doctor at a hospital can always "pick up the phone," the pace of medicine and the realities of scheduling makes telephone tag nearly impossible to do successfully. For that reason, there is often little communicate across institutions -- for instance, from a hospital to a Skilled Nursing Facility, or vice versa. That means that information is often fractured and things can get missed, not to mention that crucial nuances of patient care fall by the wayside altogether.
- Patients are given information, not guidance.
In theory, patients are given the information they need (for instance, a list of skilled nursing facilities). But realistically, they’re not being given the guidance or support necessary to make high-quality decisions about "next steps" in their care. True guidance and support means their whole care team working with the patient collaboratively -- throughout the duration of their illness.
In exploring the findings of this study, it was so clear to me that "trying harder" is not the answer when it comes to healthcare providers doing care coordination and discharge planning effectively. Teams need excellent tools and strong processes to support them in actually creating the continuity of care they intend to. And telemedicine-based medical collaboration is one of those crucial tools.
You can try iClickCare today to support your organization in doing care coordination as effectively as it intends: