Manual Care Transitions Are Having a Bigger Financial Impact Than You Might Think

by Mary Kay Thalken, RN, MBA on Jul 27, 2020

Nurse Manual WorkI’ve traveled to numerous hospitals and conferences to talk to healthcare professionals about the need to have efficient, patient-centric care transitions.

What I’ve discovered is just how many people are surprised by the significant financial impact that results from inefficient patient discharge. But those lengthy response times from PACs, and the additional days that get added to Length of Stay as a result, can really add up for hospitals.

Let’s take time to go through some of the statistics surrounding care transitions and explore the real-world impact of inefficient, manual care transitions versus efficient, automated transitions.

Billions in Wasteful Spending

It’s estimated that poor care transitions of Medicare patients cost hospitals between $25 billion and $45 billion dollars every single year.

Here are a few of the common ways hospitals tend to lose money in relation to patient discharge and care transitions:

  • Manual processes – With manual workflows, staff members have to call or even fax their post-acute referrals to their list of potential providers. Then they have to wait for responses. All told, this process can take hours and even days. And if you don’t get a positive response, you have to repeat everything all over again.
  • Transportation issues – Sometimes a patient is ready to be discharged but you don’t have a means of actually getting them to their destination. Or, because non-emergency medical transportation is unavailable, you have to spend additional amounts of money on an ambulance.
  • Staff under-utilization – When a nurse or case manager is spending hours upon hours on manual discharges, those professionals are unable to work at top of license, thereby not enabling labor hours and resource use to be maximized.
  • Readmission – Without the right care guidance provided to the patient, or without a proper provider support structure in place to check in and make sure the patient is sticking to their prescribed recovery path, it’s easy for the patient to stray from best practices, leading them to be readmitted and causing you to pay for additional care episodes that could have been prevented. In fact, it’s estimated that 20% of Medicare patients will return to the ED and be readmitted.

If your facility suffers from any of these issues, please know that you’re certainly not alone. Statistics show that hospitals around the country are dealing with these kinds of dilemmas in droves:

  • 36% of acute care providers use manual-only strategies to coordinate patient transitions.
  • 62% of post acute care facilities rely on phone calls between case managers to transfer patient information and other clinical details.
  • Only 11% of acute care providers use an integrated EHR.
  • More than one third (36%) of acute care providers do not track patients after they are transferred to a post acute care provider.
  • Only 2% of acute care hospitals and LTACs are using IT-driven strategies to coordinate patient care and transfer data.

As you can see, this isn’t just an acute care issue. Post-acute care providers, which tend to outnumber hospitals, are also relying on manual processes for the intake of patients.

With 40% of Medicare patients needing post-acute care following a hospital stay (a number that could increase even higher with COVID cases taken into account), it’s clear that something needs to be done. The solution lies in automated care transitions.

Using a Tablet for ReferralsAutomation Has the Answer

Studies estimate that, for persons like case managers and social workers whose time is spent, at least in part, on clerical work related to the discharge of patients, they’re looking at around 20 hours per week of that kind of work. So basically half the work week.

With automation, that number drops to 3 hours, or just over 5% of the work week.

That’s a massive trade-off, and it brings so many benefits to the hospital and patient. The patient is happy because they get discharged more quickly, staff members are happy because they can spend more time on activities more closely aligned with patient care and their licenses, and hospital stakeholders are happy because they’re saving money previously tied up in inefficient discharge processes.

I want to tell you about one hospital that switched to automated discharge with the Ensocare Transition software. After just six months of moving from manual processes to automation, via an app that sends and receives patient referrals to post-acute providers electronically, this hospital experienced a 5% reduction in length of stay, with an average drop of .25 days per patient. That may not seem like much, but it added up to $1.2 million in recovered revenue for this particular facility in just six months.

This kind of dramatic savings is made possible, in part, because of the massively reduced response times from post-acute providers. Whereas it previously took between 48 and 72 hours to get a response from all post-acute providers that a referral had been sent to, if they heard back at all, Ensocare Transition brings that number down to just 30 minutes on average. And there’s no confusion, no phone tag, no waiting or stopping off at the fax machine. The responses go directly to the software and the user, ensuring you’ll know as quickly as possible whether or not a given PAC has accepted your patient.

Solutions for a Modern Healthcare Provider

It’s only by really looking closely at the numbers that we begin to realize just what a drag manual discharge processes can have on budget, patient experience and staff satisfaction.

In order to become truly efficient, we have to move away from manual, analogue processes that take up inordinate amounts of our day. By embracing automation, it’s possible to improve transitions of care to the point where we’re maximizing our resources, helping patients on their path to recovery and creating cost-savings for healthcare facilities.

These issues have never been more important than in 2020, and they will only grow more so. It’s time to automate the care transition experience.

How much can your organization save with automated discharge technology? Calculate your ROI.

Meet the Author

Thalken brings more than 30 years of experience in health-care leadership to our company. Prior to joining the company, she served as Enterprise Vice President for Care Logistics in Atlanta, Ga. She has held executive leadership positions at hospitals in Nebraska and Iowa, including the position of System Quality Executive for Alegent Health. Thalken has presented on the topics of improving quality, patient flow and throughput at various industry conferences and webinars. Thalken holds an MBA from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She is a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives, American Organization of Nurse Executives and American Case Management Association.