Breakdowns in information transfer are a fundamental yet often overlooked challenge for post-acute care providers. They threaten continuity of care, increase the risk of hospital readmissions, and strangle a facility's ability to accept referrals. Yet inadequate information hand-offs continue to occur—underscoring the need for a tech-enabled approach.

A survey of skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) found fewer than 14 percent receive complete, timely and usable data from referring hospitals most of the time. More than half say they sometimes or often receive patient information after the patient is in their care. Even when information does arrive, 76 percent of SNFs say at least a portion of the data isn't usable, and many report it's incomplete—typically in regard to the patient's behavioral status (67.7 percent) or social status (65.7 percent). Together, these limitations prevent staff from reviewing and processing patient information quickly, slowing admission and putting patients' health and revenue at risk.

Now, new tools that strengthen interoperability between hospitals, SNFs, and assisted living facilities—even when data is shared via fax—hold strong potential to improve real-time access to patient information when minutes may mean the matter of life and death. This not only enhances quality of care, but also speeds referrals for post-acute facilities, which in turn, boosts revenue.

Investments for Increased Insig​​ht

At a time when 70 percent of healthcare organizations still rely on paper faxes and SNFs' ability to integrate information into an electronic health record (EHR) remains low (12.4 percent), how can post-acute facilities improve their ability to put the right information in the right hands more quickly?

Here are three considerations for post-acute providers.

1. Leverage artificial intelligence to convert unstructured data into actionable intelligence. At a time when workforce shortages already make post-acute care transitions more challenging, SNFs, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities can't afford for data to become trapped in faxes. Yet this happens frequently when faxes aren't integrated into data systems to allow for easy retrieval of patient information. It's a scenario that affects everything from how quickly a patient may be admitted to the protocols requested to ensure the right care is delivered.

For instance, ineffective communication raises the risk that medication discrepancies or failure to meet a patient's dietary needs can occur. It also increases the potential for behavioral management needs to be missed at the point of admission, putting patients and staff in harm's way. Furthermore, when one out of four SNF residents are readmitted to hospitals within 30 days, gaps in actionable insight keep teams from providing the right care to the right patients at the right time.

There is also a revenue impact when post-acute providers struggle to take action on the data they receive from referral partners. While 95 percent of post-acute providers believe interoperability matters to referral sources, 85 percent of referral sources aren't satisfied with these providers' ability to receive electronic referrals, one survey found.

That's why technologies that transform digital, unstructured patient documents and clinical content into structured, EHR-consumable, analytics-ready data are so critical. They eliminate the need for post-acute staff to manually sift through documents of unstructured data to determine what action should be taken. They also provide information in the right context, streamlining an organization's ability to accept referrals while strengthening quality of care.

Today, leading health systems use artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) to analyze and organize data in unstructured documents like faxes and PDFs to categorize and extract key data in a meaningful way. For example, an AI-powered fax solution can flag specific data points for action by team members. It can also integrate data into other digital systems and databases that post-acute providers use in their everyday workflows. Moreover, these solutions possess the ability to continuously “learn" from the healthcare faxes they read and process, enabling them to detect and flag patterns in patients' health. This enables staff to respond more quickly and effectively.

2. Lean into digital signature functionality to speed administrative workflows. Often when patients, family members, or providers need to sign a form or contract—whether to authorize treatment or transfer or agree to the financial terms of care—this takes place outside the care facility's daily workflow applications. The result: a cumbersome, highly manual administrative process that adds time to admissions and can put the security of sensitive information at risk. Increasingly, leading providers are relying on electronic signature solutions to facilitate more rapid admissions and treatment while reducing administrative workload.

The most advanced digital signature solutions incorporate blockchain to provide an audit trail for documentation, with time stamps to track documents, certificates of completion, and even the types of devices and browsers used to sign each document. Most also offer two-factor authentication for an extra layer of security and identity validation. Signed documents can then be stored in the cloud or downloaded for offline archival. For SNFs and other post-acute facilities, digital signatures offer an extra layer of security and efficiency that reduces turnaround and referral processing times—as well as costs.

3. Automate prior authorizations. Complex billing requirements rank among the top three challenges post-acute facilities face, a 2022 KLAS report found. One challenge relates to prior authorization: In December 2022, the American College of Emergency Physicians stated that some health plans now require members to secure prior authorization before a patient can be transferred from a hospital to a post-acute facility. Without the ability to streamline and standardize prior authorization, post-acute facilities could find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to accepting referrals.

That's why automating and digitizing at least a portion of the prior authorization process is a move post-acute facilities must make to stay competitive in 2023. One way to address this is by leveraging cloud-based, digital fax solutions to streamline prior authorization responses by identifying key data—from member names to ID numbers and physician information—more quickly. Another is to use NLP to automatically sort and organize key information in an inbound fax and scan faxes for key terms, such as “urgent." When key terms are detected—even in handwritten form—NLP software can direct these faxes to the right team members, increasing response times and improving patients' access to post-acute care.

More Modern Approac​hes to Post-Acute Processing

John NebergallThe challenges facing post-acute providers in a resource-constrained, cost-conscious environment demand a more sophisticated approach to accepting and processing patient referrals. Shoring up data interoperability, by providing access to actionable intelligence, will help post-acute facilities respond faster and strengthen referral relationships, as well as the quality of care they provide.

John Nebergall is chief operations officer at Consensus Cloud Solutions, the world's largest digital fax provider and a trusted global source for the transformation, enhancement, and secure exchange of digital information.​​