It’s no longer enough for hospitals to only worry about treating patients when they’re ill. Now, due to new payment models inspired by the shift toward value-based care, hospitals must do what they can to help patients along the continuum of care.

But because hospitals are so focused on providing acute care, it can be tricky to figure out just what areas facilities should look at to improve patients’ health overall.

A new report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) may provide some insight.

Keys for hospitals

The IOM has released a list of critical “vital signs” that can help all members of the healthcare industry make policies and decisions to keep patients healthy along the continuum of care.

Being aware of these vital signs can help hospitals form partnerships with other healthcare entities, such as primary care providers, to boost patient outcomes and avoid complications that could lead to readmissions.

Here are the top 10 “health vital signs” that have the most relevance to hospitals:

Life expectancy. Knowing the average life expectancy for your patient mix is a starting point to figure out what health problems are plaguing the community the most. Once you figure out those issues, you can work with other community organizations to lessen the impact of certain problems on patients’ health. And you’ll also be more prepared to treat the diseases and illnesses that have the biggest impact on patients.

Well-being. Well-being and health are directly connected. Patients with multiple chronic conditions, or with depression or other illnesses, often have lower levels of well-being than other patients, and this can lead to problems when it comes to making decisions that keep them healthy. In the current healthcare climate, hospitals are playing more of a primary role in managing health conditions that can affect patients’ well being, particularly in the emergency department.

Overweight and obesity. Obesity rates are growing in the country, and weight can be a contributing factor to adverse outcomes for many health conditions scrutinized by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), including heart failure. To help with weight control, hospitals will want to help patients make healthy choices both during their hospital stay and afterward – including providing them with well-balanced meals.

Addiction. Drug and alcohol addiction takes a serious toll on patients’ health – particularly those patients who have few resources at their disposal to conquer their addictions. In fact, many disadvantaged patients with drug and alcohol issues are classified as “superutilizers” of hospital emergency departments. Safety-net hospitals and other facilities treating patients who battle addiction should work closely with professionals who are trained to work with addicts – and perhaps even refer patients to local clinics.

Healthy communities. Patients can’t stay healthy if they live in disadvantaged communities where they lack basic resources, including fresh produce, stable housing and a safe environment. Looking at the big picture of patients’ lives can improve their outcomes. By working with community organizations that assist patients with accessing these key resources, hospitals can ensure that a lack of necessities won’t make their health worse.

Preventive services. A common theme of value-based care is keeping patients from becoming ill in the first place. And connecting them with preventive services is important to accomplishing that goal. Hospitals need to work closely with local primary care providers to make sure patients have access to the appropriate follow-up services they need to manage their conditions long-term – not just immediately after discharge.

Patient safety. Above all, hospitals should ensure patients end up in better condition leaving the hospital than they were upon being admitted. Safety should be a high priority, and it’ll only be more important going forward as CMS continues to penalize hospitals when patients experience complications that lead to early readmission. Hospitals need to do everything in their power to prevent infections, avoidable harms and other conditions that put patients in danger.

Evidence-based care. It’s best for patients to receive care that’s supported by scientific evidence – even if payors don’t always agree. Hospitals should keep up with the latest medical research and recommendations from organizations like CMS and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). Policies, programs and treatment plans should be guided by this information.

Personal spending burden. Because patients are paying more out of pocket for their health care, hospitals need to be mindful of their financial burden, particularly if patients have less income to spare. People will often make the decision to delay or skimp on health care due to costs. So it’s important to let patients know why that decision isn’t the best choice, while being as flexible as possible when it comes to patient payments.

Individual engagement. Personal choices play a big role in maintaining health. Informed patients who are engaged in their health care and treatment have better outcomes overall. Hospitals need to communicate well with patients throughout the duration of their hospital stay, making sure they’re aware of everything from their treatment options to their post-discharge instructions. If hospitals can empower patients to take responsibility for their health from the start, it’ll keep patients from unnecessary hospital trips.

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