According to a study, intervention as simple as phone calls from a nurse can help keep heart-failure patients out of the hospital and significantly lower their medical costs. The study involved 300 patients who were followed for six months after being sent home from two hospitals in the San Diego-based Sharp HealthCare network.
Patients received either usual follow-up care or printed educational material and an average of phone calls from a nurse checking on their health and offering advice. Calls began within five days of hospital discharge.
Hospital readmission rates for heart failure were 30 percent lower among patients who received the calls. Among phone-call patients who were re-hospitalized for heart failure, the average number of days spent hospitalized was 40 percent lower than for usual-care patients. Hospital costs for patients readmitted for heart failure were 35 percent lower for the phone-call group.
The study demonstrates that a relatively low-cost, low-tech method can have positive results in treating heart failure. Costs of acute care for the phone-call patients was about $1,000 less than for usual-care patients during the study.
According to researcher Barbara Riegel of San Diego State University, this savings is more than double the estimated $440 cost per patient for the six-month case-management intervention, and the co-authors said. Riegel said differences in drug treatment given to patients in both groups were not significant and likely would not explain the results.
Moreover, the researchers said the low-tech program was more effective at lowering re-hospitalization rates than reductions attributed in other studies to drug treatment. Riegel said the phone-call program is being used at one of the Sharp network hospitals and is being studied at another.