Following up with patients after giving care is a crucial means of developing a strong patient relationship. It is also the key to improving overall patient care and reducing patient readmissions in the hospital setting.
Follow up calls can address a variety of issues. One common type of follow up call is to report lab results. Another type of common follow up call is to schedule appointments. However, calls can also be made to ensure patients have made appointments with referrals or are taking medication appropriately. Other calls may have the purpose of education or reinforcing knowledge. There are myriad factors that could warrant a follow up call to a patient.
The first important part of instituting a follow up call procedure in a healthcare practice is to develop an organized means of tracking the calls and their purpose. Using spreadsheets or software developed for the express purpose of tracking follow ups is most useful.
The second consideration when beginning a more comprehensive follow up call plan is to determine the type of call that will be employed. A phone call is the most common method of follow up and often the most effective and accepted. However, there are other means of following up with patients. An automated system call could be employed for such calls as those going out to report that lab results are available with the ability for patients to call in to get their automated results. Visits to the patient’s home are another means of follow up. For a patient with transportation challenges, this may be the best means for a physician to do a follow up with a patient. Follow ups can also be implemented using forms that are given during the appointment and then returned by the patient. Finally, e-mail can be used for follow ups, but only for information that is not highly confidential as it is difficult to guarantee the security of any given e-mail system.
Next, the individual who is going to be executing the follow up calls must be identified. If the information is highly sensitive or complicated, it is best for the physician to make the call to the patient. In other situations that still require a medical background but are less sensitive, nurses are the ideal choice to make the follow up call. Finally, in situations such as setting follow up appointments or helping with referrals, other office staff are able to make such calls. In some healthcare facilities, particularly in hospitals, more recently there is a staff member whose dedicated job it is to follow up with patients and help them to find resources when needed.
After implementing a follow up procedure, its progress and effectiveness should be tracked through observation and assessment of data. Any modifications can then be made to improve both the process itself as well as patient care.