Many Americans believe that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), which was championed by President Obama, is simply intended to provide access to healthcare insurance for all Americans. However, there’s a lot more to the legislation, including new and innovative ways to drive down the overall cost of care and incentives to focus on keeping Americans healthy instead of simply treating them when they’re sick.

One of these initiatives intended to cut healthcare costs for the government went into affect this Monday. Now, if patients are readmitted to a hospital unnecessarily within 30 days of discharge, the hospital will face fines from the government.

The program initially focuses on three conditions that often result in readmission – pneumonia, heart disease and congestive heart failure. The penalty is also capped at 1 percent of the hospital’s Medicare payments for the first year. The penalties will rise progressively to 3 percent of Medicare payments over time and will eventually be expanded to include joint replacements, stenting, heart bypass and stroke treatment.

With these new fines in place, it’s increasingly important for hospitals, and their bottom lines, that they put systems in place to avoid patients being readmitted unnecessarily. This means ensuring that patients are engaged in their own care, empowered and educated to keep themselves healthy and behaving in the ways they should following their initial stint in the hospital.

“It is essential that care coordination be extended beyond the boundaries of the hospital, and that the patient is supported as they return to their home or long term care facility after a hospitalization,” said Dr. Deborah A. Jeffries, Director Global Healthcare Marketing for Polycom. “Case management and discharge planning are more important than ever, and depend heavily on collaboration across the healthcare team and the patient’s caregivers.”

Traditionally, hospitals have been required by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to provide discharge information and instructions to patients in an effort to engage and empower them in their care. These are passed on to the patient in the form of written directions or a phone conversation. However, with the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) estimating readmission rates at around 12 percent, it’s clear that this system is simply not effective.

Luckily, new ways to engage and empower patients are now available in the form of collaborative video solutions for healthcare. Utilizing video teleconferencing (VTC) solutions, hospitals and healthcare providers can ensure that the patient is prepared to leave the hospital and educated on what they need to do when they leave.

According to Dr. Jeffries, “discharge planning and case management can now be supported over live interactive multipoint video. Patients can use a tablet to connect with their case manager or primary care physician for follow-up visits over video. They can even use their tablets to watch pre-recorded video wellness and prevention programs.”

Using multipoint video, all parties involved in a patient’s care, such as primary care physicians, home healthcare aids, family members, specialists and care managers, can be brought together, face-to-face, to put together and walk through discharge instructions. Printed instructions can then be supplemented with the prerecorded video sessions detailing what patients and their caregivers or families need to do to ensure they don’t wind up back in the hospital.

But the use of video to engage and empower a patient in their own care doesn’t end when they leave the hospital. Thanks to today’s advanced VTC technologies, almost any mobile device, laptop or desktop computer can be used for HD video communication.

Utilizing mobile devices or laptops, patients can log onto and access websites with pre-recorded, targeted educational video content. This content can be recorded by case managers, nurses, nutritionists or other healthcare providers and stored online where patients and their caregivers can access it.

These same devices can be used for connecting patients via video to nurses or doctors. This enables patients to access medical professionals for advice and consultations should issues arise. This can also ensure that patients that have difficulty traveling can attend their follow-up appointments without having to leave the house.

Finally, collaborative video solutions for healthcare can be used to connect patients with peer-to-peer support group environments. Utilizing multipoint video, a community of peers can meet to discuss their conditions, challenges they’ve faced and overcome during their recovery and best practices that they’ve identified for getting and staying healthy. These virtual meetings can be moderated by doctors, nurses or other medical professionals to ensure the information being shared is appropriate.

“With the shift in today’s healthcare model toward prevention and wellness, it is imperative to bring the power of the community to bear,” Dr. Jeffries added. “By bringing together patients who have a common challenge, whether it’s to lower their blood pressure, or cope with the stresses of being ill, sharing and discussing solutions is empowering and supports a proactive move toward wellness.”

With fines being levied on hospitals that have high readmission rates among Medicare subscribers, it’s more important than ever for hospitals and their staffs to engage patients in their care and empower them to stay healthy. By embracing collaborative video for healthcare and a patient-centered approach to care, hospitals can keep their patients healthier, keep them from being readmitted unnecessarily and keep these new government fines from impacting their bottom line.