Post-discharge phone calls bear results

May 21, 2014

Compassionate care shouldn't end after the discharge process is complete. That’s the thinking behind a new pilot program on Providence St. Vincent Medical Center’s 8 East surgical unit that aims to improve patient experiences and prevent complications that land patients back in the hospital.

The concept is simple: follow up with patients by phone within three days of their hospital visit.

“We ask them about their experience and recovery, and we can provide early intervention if they are having any complications,” says Carol Simmons, RN, nurse manager. Simmons and her team on 8 East developed the idea along with Amy Brooks, program manager, patient experience, and Marla London, manager, professional development. A Vollum grant from Providence St. Vincent Medical Foundation funded the project.

One nurse works about two hours a day to make the calls. A template of questions helps organize documentation and creates a consistent experience for patients. Calls are reviewed in daily team huddles, allowing caregivers to make quick changes if needed. “We get feedback in real time instead of waiting six or more weeks for a survey to be returned,” Simmons says.

During each phone call, the nurse discusses the patient’s success managing pain at home and concerns about infections. When patients are on their own, they can experience a certain amount of fear or anxiety. The calls provide compassion and reassurance, along with clinical guidance.

Compassion also means remembering that the surgery or illness can alter a patient’s life forever. For example, when working with mastectomy patients,” Simmons says, “we walk them through their next steps, medically and emotionally.”

Since the program began, the percentage of patients who would recommend Providence St. Vincent has steadily increased and the overall perception of care on 8E has gone up 15 percentage points. “That kind of increase is really impressive,” says Brooks.

The program is having a positive effect on caregivers, too. During the calls, patients often acknowledge a specific caregiver, who is recognized later in the team huddle. The result is a boost in morale and engagement among team members.

“This program really highlights the nurses, what they do and how they make a difference,” Carol says. The success of the post-visit call program is encouraging its expansion. Watch for similar programs at Providence St. Vincent and around the Oregon Region in the coming months.