More than 60 million Americans live in rural areas. These are tight-knit areas that depend on small rural hospitals for primary care. Unfortunately, rural hospitals have closed at alarming rates. Studies show that more than 400 rural hospitals are at risk of closing. Some reasons include low margins due to lack of skilled workers. To save the hospital, administrators are advocating for advanced practice providers.

The dangers of readmissions
Readmissions affect all parties involved. Patients may receive inappropriate levels of care or incorrect information upon discharge. These mistakes reduce confidence and can cause preventable deaths. Hospitals are also at risk of losing big with high readmission rates. More than 10 years ago, readmission rates were as high as 20%. To solve the problem, CMS now penalizes hospitals up to 3% of payments. Studies have shown that hospitals can save thousands of people per readmitted patient. Low readmissions can even impact staff morale, stress, and performance. Reducing the numbers can transform the medical experience for everyone.

Bridge the gap with a needs assessment
The biggest threats to readmission rates include communication with patients, processes and resources. To truly understand performance, hospitals should aim to conduct a patient needs assessment. A needs assessment highlights the gap between what patients need and what is happening. By identifying the gaps, hospitals can then take the right actions to improve.

Who do you serve?
So where do hospitals start? First, each hospital must take into account the specific community served. Every city has challenges and the hospital will have limits. At the same time, be sure not to set preconceived goals on patient needs. To achieve this, set the assessment with a list of closed and open questions. These questions will provide a holistic view of patient care.

Find multiple stakeholders
The needs assessment fails if there are not enough stakeholders involved. Consider the entire patient process from start to finish. At each point of contact, make sure you have someone who can provide feedback. Most importantly, patients should have a say in what is missing.

Use patient feedback to make decisions.
Without the patient’s voice, an assessment of the patient’s needs becomes unnecessary. Are there patients directly involved in the process? Then rely on surveys like the HCAHPS. What makes the HCAHPS so useful is the number of questions focused on communication and performance. Adding open-ended questions will give the hospital both quantitative and qualitative data.

Collect, then examine the data
Chances are, the hospital will reveal unmet needs from the data. Make sure you collect enough touchpoints to get a feel for what is missing. Hospitals will see trends in communication, care, skills and a lack of resources that cause problems such as high readmission rates.

Identify the first steps to big wins.
Based on the needs assessment, some hospitals may not have the resources to deal with everything. However, the hospital can invest in stocks which can bring big gains. For example, investing in remote case management. Virtual support can improve staff availability and ensure consistent communication. Hospitals can also add support for post-discharge follow-up calls, which can transform performance.

Measure and communicate your progress
After you have developed an action plan and made the first changes, be sure to measure the improvement. Recording progress helps hold the hospital accountable. Share data with stakeholders for more accountability. The needs assessment will continue to add value to the hospital through constant review.

Continue to measure performance
Reducing readmissions is one of the many areas where needs assessment can help. Some assessments are mandatory, such as the CHNA. However, this should not prevent hospitals from performing periodic examinations of patients. By gathering feedback and taking action, a needs assessment can transform readmission rates and hospitals.