Use technology to connect with patients
New applications help communication
When you have patients who are joined at the hip with their smartphones or electronic tablets, it doesn’t make any sense to use any other technology to engage them and communicate with them, says Teri Treiger, RN-C, MA, CCM, CCP, a case management consultant based in Holbrook, MA.
"There are new health-related applications coming on the market for mobile devices all the time. Case managers need to be mindful of the new applications and the technology their patients use, whether it’s a smartphone, a tablet, or a computer," she says.
Text messages (appropriately protecting confidentiality) are a good way to send reminders to patients about appointments or to remind them of tests and procedures they need, she says. Many consumers of all ages routinely send and receive text messages on their mobile phones. Even older patients are familiar with text messages, in part because it’s the best way to communicate with their children and grandchildren, Treiger points out.
Leverage the technology people are already using to help them improve their health, suggests Mary Beth Newman, MSN, RN-BC, CCP, CCM, case management director for CareSource, a Dayton, OH-based insurer.
As patient advocates, case managers should familiarize themselves with mobile applications that can help patients do everything from keeping track of their exercise and diet, to reviewing their personal health records, to monitoring their diabetes or asthma, Newman says.
"There also are a lot of sophisticated applications available such as one that includes a device geared to children that fits on an asthma inhaler. When a child uses the inhaler, the device wirelessly sends the time and day to the application. It helps with monitoring and encourages self care," she says.
Several technology firms have developed medication boxes and bottles embedded with Bluetooth technology that can remind patients to take their medication and generate an automated phone call to a case manager or physician office if the patient doesn’t open the box or bottle, Treiger says.
"Patients, caregivers or their case managers can load the boxes for a week or a shorter period of time and set the reminder alarm. The box will beep or flash when it’s time to take the medication. At this point, the technology can’t track whether the patient actually put the pill in his mouth and swallowed it, but it can be a big help in supporting adherence," she says. The technology cost is minimal compared to the cost of a hospitalization, she points out.
Web-based services that offer audio and video are an effective way to communicate with patients, particularly those who live in a remote area, Treiger says. "Case managers can learn a lot by seeing a video feed as they talk to their clients. They can see if they are disoriented or are having labored breathing. It helps create rapport and makes people feel less isolated," she says.
These services create the best of both worlds from the perspective of the patient and the organization, she points out. Contacting patients by video can create the same kind of rapport as face-to-face meetings, while allowing case managers to work more efficiently by eliminating driving time. "It opens up a whole new world of possibilities for personalized contact. For elderly or shut-in patients, a video visit may be the highlight of their week," she says.
When patients with heart failure are released from the hospital, it’s very common for them to take remote monitoring tools with them that transmit information such as daily weight to the physician office, or an online portal that may be accessed by the case managers, Newman points out. "This promotes communication between the patient, the case manager, and physician. It’s an exciting way that technology can be used to promote good health," she says.