After discharge from University Hospitals, a patient with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease receives a call checking in: How many times have you used your rescue inhaler in the past 24 hours? Are you feeling better or worse than yesterday?
The automated call lasts just a couple of minutes, provides the patient with some information about inhalers and ends with this message: “All right. Thanks for listening. I'll check in on you again in a few days. Goodbye.”
And the computer will.
This transition of care program at UH Geauga Medical Center sends a series of calls to recently discharged patients with COPD for about two weeks. If a patient's responses are concerning, providers will be notified so they can follow up. The automation is an offering of Emmi, which designs technology-based systems that deliver patient engagement.
As technology offers growing ways to interact with patients, hospitals are working to increase efficiencies without losing the personal touch of a patient-physician relationship.
It can be done, but it takes work to walk that line between added efficiencies and empathy, said Carol Santalucia, president of Santalucia Group, a Cleveland consultancy focused on patient experience.
UH uses Emmi for this automation service as well as for educational videos and population health campaigns.
MetroHealth plans to start using Emmi's automated calls this summer, in addition to the other Emmi features it already uses. After a six-month pilot, the Cleveland Clinic is using HealthLoop — which sends automated emails to patients — on an ongoing basis in orthopedics. It's open to expanding that service to other departments.
“I think technology can help us become much more efficient, and I also think you have to be very, very careful with it,” said Santalucia, who spent almost 30 years at the Clinic working in patient experience before starting her consulting firm.
“The thing that I encourage health care leaders to do and to recognize is that it's all about that emotional connection,” she said. “And it's harder to achieve the emotional connection when you rely too heavily on technology.”
Nate Hunt, director of UH's accountable care organization, stresses that the automated system's economy of scale doesn't come at the cost of individual needs, empathy and personalization.
“We're never trying to over-automate or take away that personal touch, especially in a space like health care,” he said.