The Most Underutilized Technology in Modern Medicine

Monday, September 14th, 2009
This post was written by Melanie Matthews

In the old days, the phone company called it POTS (plain old telephone service). Today, the telephone is plainly helping to improve health outcomes and reduce healthcare utilization.

In last week’s address on healthcare, President Obama acknowledged the “high-quality care at costs below average” offered by Intermountain Healthcare and the Geisinger Health System, and encouraged “the adoption of these common-sense best practices by doctors and medical professionals throughout the system.”

This summer, Geisinger shared with us how attention to care transitions is paying off in reduced readmissions among its Medicare population. And last week, Group Health Cooperative, which has been called a model for healthcare reform, described the medical home staffing models that have reduced ER visits by 29 percent, preventable hospitalizations by 11 percent and in-person visits by 6 percent — results published this month in the American Journal of Managed Care.

Both organizations employ a low-cost, low-tech tool to drive outcomes — what Group Health’s VP of Primary Care Services Michael Erikson describes as “the most underutilized technology in modern medicine, the telephone.” Geisinger calls Medicare patients within 24 hours of discharge — even on weekends — to make sure they understand medication instructions, are safe in their homes and have a doctor’s appointment within five to seven days. Group Health patients can book one of two daily phone appointments, and all 26 Group Health medical centers can answer a patient’s call 80 percent of the time the first time they call, and no patient waits longer than 45 minutes for an answer to their clinical question. Group Health also calls patients within 24 hours of an ED visit to invite them back to primary care and follow up on any care needs resulting from that ED visit.

And in a featured story in this week’s Healthcare Business Weekly Update, Hackensack University Medical Center’s routine follow-up call to discharged heart failure patients is helping to keep many of these patients from returning to the hospital.

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