Care Coordination Demands Streamlined Communication Beyond Hospital Walls

Communication is essential for patient safety during transitions of care — from between hospital departments to between the hospital and post-acute care facilities. As hospitals are now financially accountable for preventable readmissions, they have an additional incentive to improve communication with post-acute and primary care providers. Furthermore, as hospitals coordinate care and create accountable care organizations, they will need to communicate more closely with providers outside their organizations’ walls.

Dr. Michael McKenna is CMO of Advocate Lutheran General Hospital.
Dr. Michael McKenna

Advocate Lutheran General
To streamline clinician-to-clinician communication both within the hospital and between the hospital and other healthcare facilities, Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., implemented a rules-based electronic system. The system, called PerfectServe, establishes standard, HIPAA-compliant communication protocols based on clinicians’ schedules and their preferences for how they want to be contacted by other clinicians across all modes of communication — including text messaging, which is on the rise. The system takes into account vacation days and other contextual factors, allowing clinicians to contact the appropriate person directly without the delays and confusion associated with traditional pagers that may not account for these factors.

“It allows us to have fewer delays and more timely, secure communication between caregivers,” says Michael McKenna, MD, vice president of medical management and CMO of Advocate Lutheran General Hospital.

Before Lutheran General implemented the communication system, there were approximately 40,000 to 45,000 communication “transactions,” or calls, among Lutheran General’s roughly 1,100 physicians each month, according to Terry Edwards, CEO of PerfectServe. After implementation, this volume decreased to approximately 30,000 to 33,000 due to streamlined, secure communications.

Terry Edwards is CEO of Perfect Serve.
Terry Edwards

ACOs and coordinating care
The rules-based communication system also has the ability to set up direct links between hospital providers and affiliated outside providers, such as primary care physicians. This link enables providers to easily share discharge information and follow up on patients’ progress after hospital discharge. This connection among different kinds of providers is particularly helpful for ACOs.

Oak Brook, Ill.-based Advocate Health System, parent system of Lutheran General, has an ACO called AdvocateCare — a partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois — and a Medicare Shared Savings Program ACO. Rules-based communication among providers within and outside the hospital is crucial for ACO participants to coordinate services throughout the continuum of care. “We have responsibility for populations. We have to think outside of the walls of just the hospital,” Dr. McKenna says. “We need to get hold of physicians and other caregivers in ways we didn’t do in the past.”

Improved communication between hospital and outside providers not only facilitates care coordination, but it also has the potential to increase patient and physician satisfaction. Hospitals should therefore consider their communication strategy as they continue to strive toward the triple aim of high-quality care, lower costs and enhanced population health.