How Augmented Reality Can Reduce Hospital Readmissions

Hospital readmissions are an ongoing issue for hospitals and efforts remain high to drive down the rate of rehospitalizations. The Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program, implemented in October 2012, has been penalizing hospitals with excess levels of preventable 30-day readmission rates for certain conditions like pneumonia and heart failure. And in 2009, Jencks, Williams, and Coleman published an article highlighting the alarming amount (19.6%) of patients who were rehospitalized within 30 days of discharge in 2003-2004 and the estimated cost of unplanned rehospitalizations at $17.4 billion in 2004.

Although hospitals have dedicated significant effort towards reducing readmissions, the most recent Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) data reveals that 62.5% of hospitals still have excess readmission rates. Why are they so high? There are plenty of potential factors involved: health conditions, timing, demographics, follow-up care, patient engagement, and more. Evidence suggests that multifaceted, robust interventions with numerous components are the ones that are most effective. That being the case, it’s no surprise that hospitals are turning to technology to aid in their initiative of reducing readmissions. Telehealth and telemonitoring are some more common technological interventions to date, but augmented reality (AR) is another technology that, coupled with proven methods, can help reduce rehospitalizations more effectively.

Since augmented reality is a highly immersive, multi-sensory technology, it engages attention and is a great motivator for patient cooperation. AR presents material in a novel and interesting way--videos, visuals, and 3D interactive simulations--making it much more engaging than traditional printed materials or verbal instructions. It also eliminates any language or hearing barriers which increase risk of readmission. These AR experiences allow patients to physically interact with their care program, providing lasting interest and engagement in their healthcare before and after discharge. In addition, AR can be used on mobile devices that patients already own, making it easily accessible for patients and simple for hospitals to implement.

Ensuring proper patient care and reducing avoidable readmissions involves the entire lifecycle of the hospital experience, starting from pre-procedure or intake all the way through post-discharge. The flexibility of AR allows it to be inserted in every part of the process:

Augmented reality can prepare patients for procedures

Patient education is a critical component of preventing readmissions. While not all hospital admittances are planned, a significant portion of readmissions are post-surgery or post-procedure, many of which are scheduled. Enhancing procedure preparation materials and instructions with AR can result in better retention and understanding of information, leading to more comfortable patients and smoother procedural processes. Positive, safe experiences in the hospital means happier patients who cooperate better. This also touches on patient experience and HCAHPS (the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) scores, ultimately affecting a hospital’s bottom line.

Augmented reality can support hospital staff

Augmented reality can be used to teach, train, and support surgeons, doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff during procedures and administrative tasks to limit complications and errors that result in rehospitalization. Trainings, schedules, and simulations can be visually enhanced with AR, resulting in more well-equipped staff throughout the hospital experience.

Augmented reality can clearly communicate post-discharge information

Patient communication is another essential component of preventing readmissions. Augmented reality more effectively conveys information, particularly complicated information like physical therapy exercises and medication and recovery instructions. This results in increased comprehension, and ultimately, increased patient cooperation. When patients better understand their care plans, they are more likely to be aware of red flags, correctly take medication, and make better health decisions that maximize their recovery. AR also encourages physical movement and provides a way to track patient participation and progress without relying fully on self-reported data.

Proven methods of reducing readmissions can be made even more robust by incorporating augmented reality. The largely untapped potential of this technology can help to combat the ongoing problem of avoidable readmissions, which presents a large opportunity for hospitals to simultaneously lower costs, improve quality of care, and improve the patient experience as a whole.

Rachel MartindaleComment