Reducing Readmissions with Student Health Coaches

November 10, 2017

Teresa Lee, EdD is an Assistant Professor and Educational Program Director at Winona State University. Teresa received her Masters in Clinical Exercise Physiology from University of Wisconsin La Crosse where she returned to start teaching part time in 2000. In 2009, Teresa became the Director of the undergraduate program in clinical exercise science at Winona State where she now teaches full time and has a part time gig over at University Wisconsin La Crosse. We spoke with Teresa about her presentation, “Student Health Coaches to Reduce Readmissions in Winona”, at the 32nd Annual AACVPR Fall conference and asked how mobile technology could enhance communication and data collection for programs like hers.

MA: Hi Teresa, thank you for taking the time to speak with us about your presentation today at AACVPR. How did the Student Health Coach Program get its start?

TL: Sure, the Health Coaching Program came about because the local hospital in Winona (Winona Health) was looking at readmissions. They asked questions like ‘who are our high risk patients? why are they coming back?’ and ‘how can we help keep them out of the ER and really, out of the hospital’? So, after taking a look at this whole gambit of things we thought, maybe we can use the local university and utilize the students to help with this process. So the powers that be all came together and the Student Health Coaching Program is what we came up with.

MA: A great way to promote community engagement…

TL: Yes! Service learning especially; these students are in the community helping people and learning while they’re doing it! They’re getting these new skills that will come in handy when they head out to their field of work.

MA: Sounds like it’s benefiting everyone involved, how long has the program been running?

TL: We’ve been running the program for 4 years now.

MA: That’s a good run, will you be reporting any outcomes today at AACVPR?

TL: Yes we are and we never imagined the types of outcomes that we’re seeing. We’re seeing a 58% reduction in ER visits, a 57% reduction in hospital readmissions and a reduction in clinic visits! People are really realizing that they don’t need to go to the hospital for all of these things, there are some things that they can do at home. It’s really empowering patients to take better care of themselves.

MA: Makes sense, your coaches are helping patients be more independent by creating healthy habits.

TL: Yes and on the student side, I mean I could talk about that forever. What the students are learning is amazing. Not only are they helping reduce costs at the hospital, they’re improving quality of life for patients across the board. I have students who get jobs out of their internships, hospitals create jobs for them because of their experience with us. I hear all the time, “I got into grad school because of the Health Coaching program, that’s all they ask about, ‘tell me about this Health Coaching Program, what did you do there, what did you learn’?" So as far as student outcomes, it has boosted their resumes and has really taught them the importance of learning who someone is and not just what their disease state is. All of our students who are in this program are going to work with patients with chronic conditions and it’s important for them to know that a patient is more than just their chronic disease.

MA: You know, i think it’s wonderful that these students are learning some of the habits that they are helping patients set. When they get into their 50s and 60s, they may remember some of what they learned from your program and have a positive effect on their health, that’s an additional return on this effort.

TL: Definitely.

MA: So, the student health coaches are all in college, they must be pretty tech savvy. Do you currently use an app for student health coaching? And do you get any suggestions for features that students think would help the patient/program?

TL: Currently we aren’t using anything like that, Winona Health is a little hospital, they have an electronic medical record but it’s not like something you’d see at a larger hospital. It’s an electronic system that’s been in use for a long time, they’re looking at adopting a new system right now. Right now, everything is literally hand written and then scanned in. It’s very time consuming, there are so many better ways of doing it.

WSU itself is a paperless university so all students are given a tablet and a laptop. The students do use apps on their devices, independently from the program. They tell me how they’ll download videos on exercise programs and do them with the patients, or the patient will need to find a hospital resource and the student will use their tablet to find it.

I know that a lot of these patients don’t have tablets because they’re too expensive or they aren’t accustomed to the technology. Students do use their own tablets to help out but they aren’t issued out by the program, that would be something great to have in the future.

MA: Definitely, as mobile technology becomes increasingly integrated into healthcare, we’re recognizing new ways that it can help streamline workflows for programs like yours. Drawing from your 4 years of experience with the Student Health Coaching Program, are there any ways you could see mobile technology enhancing the work you are doing?

TL: Sure, communication can definitely be enhanced. For instance, our student coaches and patients don’t have a way of communicating with one another because we can’t give out phone numbers. You know, the students are going to graduate, they are going to move on and so we can’t give out that info so if there was a way for them to communicate without needing a phone number, that would be helpful. Also, tracking successes would be great as well. Like if you set a goal with the patient and the patient is able to complete it, it would be great to be able to track that in an App.

MA: I see, so that goal tracking is all done on paper right now?

TL: Yes, the coach and patient write it down and then we will use a scanner to get it into the electronic record system.

MA: That sounds time consuming. I think that with some time, we’ll find a balance between technological and high human touch approaches to health coaching. Face to face interaction is generally preferred over digital, however, mobile technology can be used to enhance communication and data collection ability, freeing up more time for staff to have face to face interactions.

Good luck on your presentation and thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.

TL: Thank you, no problem!

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