High-tech Humanity Provides a Roadmap to Wellness
Real-time virtual health advocates create healthy relationships with patients.
The thought of an extended stay in an acute care hospital, rehabilitation hospital, or nursing home is a scary proposition. No matter how good the care and service are, most people prefer to be in their own homes if possible. And the average cost of nursing home care is more than $50,000 a year and climbing, according to AARP, making a hospital stay financially as well as emotionally challenging.
Technology offers many opportunities to help people stay engaged and adhere to post-release regimens so they can be released earlier and keep them from being readmitted. Often simple outreach and support can have a positive impact on long-term health outcomes.
Welcome Home Health takes the simple premise of a supportive friend and updates it for a digital world. The company works with healthcare facilities to provide discharged patients with dedicated tablets to enable one-touch daily video calls and 24/7 availability with supportive “health advocates” who follow up about patients’ well-being. Many patients experience anxiety as they move to their next health recovery stage, and knowing there is someone looking out for them can make a world of a difference, says CEO and Founder Vanessa McLaughlin.
We recently sat down with McLaughlin to discuss how real-time interactions translate into better health outcomes, and how she maneuvers her company through the complexities of the healthcare industry.
Customer Strategist: As CEO, what’s your approach to providing a great client experience in the dynamic healthcare environment?
Vanessa McLaughlin: Our national health infrastructure is set up for acute care episodes. With the ACA and managed care, we are asking patients to assume more personal responsibility for supporting themselves post discharge. But the systems simply are not in place to help patients be successful. Welcome Home Health provides the patients and their families a single trusted point of contact for support as they return to health.
Face-to-face video conversations allow the health advocate to be a constant bridge of support to the client, providing daily checkups to assure they follow discharge orders and are keeping themselves healthy. Patients are often scared about their condition and their path to recovery. They are sicker than in the past. We want to make sure that our patients are treated with the utmost respect and kindness. Health advocates stay within their lane and never ever advise patients on clinical activity, but they support patients as they return to health. When we train employees, we speak often that our core job is to provide that trusted support, friendly, helping hand, and address their questions immediately. It’s much like the concierge in the hospitality industry.
Our health advocates schedule daily meetings with patients to go over their care plan, help them schedule medical appointments, and make sure that their health process from their care plan is moving forward.
I think the piece that’s missing in healthcare these days, particularly in the care transition space, is one-on-one relationship building with patients and helping them through a process, versus giving them paperwork that says, “take care of yourself.” We take that burden from the patient and we engage with them, building relationships and giving them one point of contact to take care of all of those things that they need when they’ve just been discharged from the hospital.
Our program has shown that this approach can reduce readmissions, reduce medication errors, and plays a role in helping patients heal at a higher rate than they would without a support system. In some cases, patients who would’ve been released from a rehab hospital to a nursing facility instead were able to go home, with oversight by our health advocates.
CS: Why is video an important platform for patient success?
VM: When I’m talking to you, you’re looking at me and I’m looking at you. I can tell what’s really going on versus what you might be telling me. I can tell whether you understand what I’m talking about, if you are engaging, and if you’re in pain.
This way we see them, see their health issue, and can build a relationship. We have learned that on video conferencing patients see this as a direct face-to-face consult, and respond very politely and honestly.
For example, if you tell me “I’m a one” on the one to 10 pain scale and I can see on your face that you’re grimacing and look like you’re in pain, I will follow up with a question like, “Can you tell me why you’re grimacing?” Usually people will then say, “OK, here’s what’s really going on today.”
It’s a real-life conversation. I think the phone call tends to be a checklist, focused more on checking off tasks versus having an ongoing relationship.
CS: According to Salesforce research data, 64 percent of consumers already “expect companies to respond and interact with them in real time.” What do you do to ensure quality real-time interactions with patients?
VM: We are very protocol-driven and customer-service oriented. Our chief medical officer has designed a clinical protocol system that provides health advocates with an immediate path to our internal physician or pharmacist to address immediate medical and pharmaceutical needs that come up during conversations. If patients need additional attention, we contact the patient’s physicians or when neccesary we call 911, while staying on the video call with the patient until the EMTs arrive. We are a single point of contact for the patient.
CS: How do patients respond to video interactions?
VM: We found that our patients are not hesitant. Our very first patient was a 97-year-old man in New York City who had never talked on video before. When I went to his home and gave him the tablet, he pushed the button and the health advocate came on the screen. He immediately got the biggest grin on his face and then he just started talking to her like she was right there in the room and he had done it forever.
From my previous experience working at Veterans Affairs, I knew that it had to be really simple for older people to engage with the technology. I knew that if we could do a one-button device, it would be simple enough that they wouldn’t forget how to use it. Our goal is to have patients call us 24/7 if they need anything, and we know if we made it difficult for them, they wouldn’t use it.
CS: How do you gather insight on the program and potential improvements?
VM: We are very proactive in continuing to learn and to respond to patient, caregiver, and provider needs. At the end of their scheduled daily consult with health advocates, patients are asked if their needs were met and if they had any additional questions. At the end of their time with us, patients are asked to fill out a survey before they turn off the tablet.
Also, health advocates are asked to share any extraordinary consult—both positive and challenging. They turn on the video and record a one-minute presentation of what just happened. During weekly team meetings, we use these video sessions to grow, alter, or celebrate our patients’ successes.
What my health advocates think is the coolest thing is when patients call us and tell our advocate about a latest health success that they’ve had.
Because of these feedback loops we continually add services that patients have requested. We created a Facebook page for patients to stay in contact post-discharge from our program. And we send thank-you notes to patients congratulating them on their successful return to health.
CS: The healthcare industry is currently in a bit of turmoil. How are you dealing with that as a CEO?
VM: There are 50 million people right now who are 65-plus, and that will grow to 77 million by 2030. These are the folks who need healthcare services most. We have so many Baby Boomers in this country, healthcare costs are going to become exorbitant. It doesn’t matter what Congress is saying or what they are trying to do. The fact is there are people who are going to get sick and will be sicker for longer because they’ve just aged into it. Plus, we have people who are living longer than they used to. We think that we are sitting at the right place, at the right time to help people that need more help.
Remote healthcare delivery and care transitions are a developing market in the U.S. We’ve got to figure out how to take care of Baby Boomers in new ways. And care transitions and remote healthcare ultimately are going to be real key players in that marketplace.