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Checking in: calling patients at home after discharge catches problems and reassures

Checking in: calling patients at home after discharge catches problems and reassures

RNs Melanie Strittmatter (left) and Dr. Chantal Backman are part of the hospital’s post-discharge phone call program.

“It used to feel like nobody cared when we left the hospital,” a patient told RN Sascha Ménard early this fall. “And now I know they care.”

Ménard was, until a recent move to a new role at The Ottawa Hospital, part of a small team of nurses who call patients a few days after they’ve been discharged. The program, which began as a pilot last May and has been extended through the next fiscal year, targets medicine and surgery patients.

During the calls, the nurses introduce themselves and then ask a series of questions to ensure patients are okay and adjusting well to being at home. Did the patient understand his discharge instructions? Does she know what to expect next? Is he taking all the correct medication?

“They’re often uncertain because they aren’t sure what’s normal,” said Ménard. “Maybe there is swelling, or they’re experiencing some pain around a surgical wound. I ask about their symptoms. I reassure the patient that they’re ‘normal’.”

If the symptoms aren’t normal, the nurses follow up with the surgeon or physician, or refer the patient back to hospital. They also ask what could have improved the patient’s hospital experience and if there’s someone they’d like to thank.

Feedback from the phone calls has been useful, said Dr. Chantal Backman, who leads the program.

For example, physicians are now more diligent about completing discharge summaries, which help patients understand what their next steps are and provide continuity in follow-up appointments.  In medicine and surgery departments, 81 percent of the summaries are now completed – a nine percent jump from May 2014.

The hospital’s patient experience ratings have improved since the program began. “Although many different things are contributing to this indicator, we know this program is helping,” said Backman.

Ménard said patients truly appreciate the nurses checking on them.

“They’re happy to hear from you,” she said. “If things aren’t going well, it can be overwhelming to call the hospital. They can ask you all of their questions and make sure they know what’s going on.”


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  • Nancy Sullivan says:

    Every department should have this service!

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