Let’s face it: we all get tired, distracted, and a little noncompliant during the holidays. So what can you do as a post-acute healthcare professional to keep your patients safer as they celebrate the holiday season and potentially expose themselves to increased risks for emergent and/or inpatient treatment?
The holiday season is upon us. It is a time for giving thanks, spending quality moments with your loved ones, and relishing in the beauty of this time of year.
But if you are a healthcare professional, you probably recognize the other side to the holiday season. You know that along with decorations, celebrations, and fun traditions come increasing cases of flu, COVID, and other respiratory infection outbreaks.
The timing of these seasonal infections couldn’t be worse. Patients may be reluctant to go to follow-up appointments or even accept post-acute services in their homes because they are busy preparing for family visits and holiday festivities. Noncompliance with medications and care plan items may occur as patients and their families focus on holiday fun.
There may be dietary indiscretions as well, because who can say no to another piece of pie? Exposure to more visiting friends and family can increase the risk for coming down with one of those pesky infections too. Patients may also experience excessive fatigue and weakness from holiday plans, as it is the most wonderful, yet busiest, time of the year.
Tired, Distracted, and a Little Noncompliant
Let’s face it: we all get tired, distracted, and a little noncompliant during the holidays. For your patients who are diagnosed with chronic conditions like CHF, COPD, diabetes, and renal disease, straying from their normal care regime can mean an increased risk for exacerbations or complications and readmissions to the hospital.
Healthcare professionals in the post-acute spaces play an integral role in the attempt to keep patients healthy at home, and out of the hospital. Year round, those providing skilled services like rehabilitation, home health, or hospice, recognize that patient goals revolve around positive outcomes and the avoidance of complications and hospitalizations. Not only are recently discharged patients fragile and at risk for readmissions, but any patient with a chronic condition, lowered immune system, or even simple exposure to bacterial and viral infections is at risk for needing emergent care and potentially being admitted to the hospital.
So what can you do as a post-acute healthcare professional to keep your patients safer as they celebrate the holiday season and potentially expose themselves to increased risks for emergent and/or inpatient treatment?
Practice Early Intervention
Dozens of compliance topics developed to meet state and federal regulations.
1. Reinforce Education
Don’t be afraid to dig deeper into your care plans over the holidays and reinforce to patients the purpose of your services. Talk about the defined interventions and goals and ensure your patients and their caregivers are well-educated on all aspects of their care. Give clear reminders related to their existing health conditions and how to recognize and intervene early if any compromising symptoms arise.
Discuss the consequences of noncompliance and how it can affect the patient’s health and wellness. A diabetic patient can be gently reminded why excess sugar intake can cause a variety of complications. A patient with renal disease on dialysis can be reminded of the side effects of skipping a dialysis appointment due to holiday plans. No matter their underlying condition, ensure your patients know why sticking to care plan interventions and goals and medication regimes is important.
Teach patients and caregivers about the symptoms of current, popular viruses like influenza and COVID strains and how to recognize and avoid potential exposure when able.
Remember as well that distractions during the busy holiday season are common for us all. So don’t just talk at your patients. Teach them and, to confirm their understanding, always have them repeat back the education that you have given them.
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2. Encourage Communication
The holidays aren’t just busy; they can also be an overwhelming time of year for a variety of reasons. Don’t assume that every patient and caregiver enjoys the hustle, bustle, and celebratory nature that comes with the season.
For those who have lost loved ones or are simply not enjoying the time of year, it may not be a jolly time. Think of the patient who has those dietary indiscretions during the holidays. Is that kind of noncompliance due to a simple love of holiday cookies or due to feeling socially isolated and stressed?
Don’t forget your empathy during this busy time of year. Keep lines of communication open, particularly during the holiday season, and ask your patients how they are feeling. As always, foster communication and be ready to intervene with your team if you discover that a patient requires some extra emotional or mental support.
3. Talk About Limitations
Make sure your patients and their caregivers understand what limitations they may have related to their health status. A patient receiving chemotherapy may need to skip a crowded holiday party. A patient recently diagnosed with pneumonia should probably avoid visiting a loved one who reports a recent mild fever, cough, and sore throat.
There are exceptions to every rule, but make sure your patient is putting their health in clear focus and understanding any limitations they may have. Encourage a balance where patients can maintain positive steps toward optimal health outcomes and still participate in some manner in their favorite activities.
For the most up to date tracking on current, prevalent infectious diseases trending in the U.S., visit your local health department website and the Flu View or COVID Data Tracker Weekly Review from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC].
4. Practice Early Intervention
Healthcare professionals must adapt and alter patient care plans continuously, as is the hallmark of care plan individualization. Teach your patients to report any signs of chronic condition exacerbation immediately, and to similarly report any new, concerning symptoms for intervention. A patient with CHF should not be reluctant to report an excessive weight gain and signs of fluid overload because it occurs close to a holiday. Similarly, a patient who was exposed to a large group of people for several hours during a party and later develops congestion and body aches should not wait several days to report the symptoms.
Make sure your patients and caregivers understand the importance of early intervention. During the holiday season especially, be sure to work with attending providers and adjust patient care plans as soon as any complication or new, worrisome symptom arises.
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5. Monitor Your Resources
Don’t forget that provider offices, pharmacies, and equipment companies may have different hours of operation during the holiday season, which may limit access to resources. Always know the availability of your resources, but particularly during holidays, so you can get your patients what they need to remain safe at home.
The winter holiday season also brings weather concerns, such as freezing temperatures, storms, power outages, and more. Make sure to keep patients prepared in those circumstances as well.
A Festive (and Safer) End to the Year
Encourage your patients to end 2022 and the holiday season on a positive note by implementing just a few tips for reducing health risks during the holiday season. Everyone is allowed to enjoy themselves and life must be lived to the fullest, but do your part as a healthcare professional in the post-acute arena to make sure your fragile patients are safe and as healthy as possible during the holiday season and beyond.
For more information on the current CMS initiatives to reduce hospital readmissions all year long, keep up to date on the Hospital Readmission Reduction program here.