Web site spotlight: Reduce hospital readmissions with a patient advocate

Staff Development Weekly: Insight on Evidence-Based Practice in Education, May 8, 2009

Researchers at Boston Medical Center (BMC) are investigating whether a virtual patient advocate can improve real-life health literacy.

Developed by Timothy Bickmore, PhD, assistant professor of computer and information science at Northeastern University in Boston, the virtual patient advocate is on clinical trial at BMC to increase patient understanding of post-discharge self-care regimens. Bickmore and his team of researchers hope the system can decrease patient readmissions within 30 days of hospital discharge.

“Nationally it’s been shown that about 20% of patients get readmitted within 30 days,” says Bickmore, who adds that a third of that percentage are preventable. “There is a lot of information patients need to know before they go home. The typical discharge in the U.S. lasts about eight minutes and it’s like ‘here are your prescriptions and a pat on the back.’”
The system operates by having a clinical trial nurse enter a predischarge patient’s information into a computer database. This generates an “After-Hospital Care Plan” personalized booklet for the patient. After that, the nurse wheels the computer to the patient’s bedside on a kiosk and gives the patient his or her pamphlet. The patient then converses with an animated virtual patient advocate character using a touch-screen display to go over his or her care instructions.

The system enables the patient to review his or her medication list, follow-up appointments, primary diagnosis, pending lab tests, medical durable equipment needed at home, and diet and exercise recommendations. It also creates a list of questions the patient can review with a nurse at the end of the interaction.

In addition, the pamphlet features a patient activation page that encourages patients to write down questions and issues they may want to discuss with their primary care physician prior to the actual visit.

Editor’s note: This excerpt was adapted fromVirtual patient advocate could help enhance health literacyfound in the Reading Room at Get a free trial membership that will give you 30 days to test drive all the exciting features on the Web site.

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