Key Takeaways

My family member recently had a knee replacement. As the surgery date approached and I carved out time to take care of them, I reflected on all of the patients I managed in the postoperative setting as a PA over the years and thought, “This won’t be a big deal.” 

But as I sat there next to the hospital bed awaiting their discharge — collecting a variety of documents into a hospital-provided folder — it was apparent to me that even the best counseling and after-visit summaries might not be as effective as we think they are.

Often, the majority of knowledge imparted to patients and their families evaporates in the chaos of exiting the hospital. One survey shows 66% of patients leave the doctor’s office having forgotten to ask important questions.

As soon as patients return to the outside world, many uncertainties, challenges, and barriers emerge that can get in the way of successful recovery — even for those of us who know the process well. 

But there’s a ray of hope. AI is making significant strides in helping patients navigate their post-surgery care with greater ease and confidence. To fully grasp the capabilities intelligent technology can offer healthcare organizations across the industry landscape, it’s essential to understand the complexities of managing care after surgery and how cutting-edge healthtech can help.

The challenges of post-surgery care management

Surgery marks one step on a journey toward better health. However, managing post-surgery care can be a complex and sometimes overwhelming experience. The road to recovery is often littered with challenges that patients must face after the operation, including: 

Managing medications

One of the most significant challenges post-surgery patients face is managing their medications. Prescribed drugs often come with complex schedules, dosages, and potential side effects. 

Around 50% of patients take medications after surgery. But individuals may find it challenging to keep track of what to take when, find transportation to pick up prescriptions, and decide who to contact in case they have questions or unexpected side effects. All of these issues can lead to missed doses or incorrect administration —  potentially leading to serious consequences, including delayed recovery or even complications.

Communication gaps

Effective communication between patients and healthcare providers is essential, but it can sometimes break down. Patients might forget to ask questions about symptoms or concerns during follow-up appointments or pre-surgery consultations, while healthcare providers might be too overwhelmed to consistently provide thorough explanations about the intricacies of post-surgery care. 

The importance of communication in the surgical context is well-proven. For instance, one multi-study analysis found most patients recovering from abdominal surgery experience fewer postoperative complications, shorter hospital stays, and improved psychological status when they receive thorough education about their procedures. Ultimately, communication gaps can lead to misunderstandings and missed opportunities to address issues promptly or before they even happen.

Transportation and accessibility

Patients who have undergone surgery often face mobility challenges, especially immediately after the procedure. That’s why having convenient, accessible transportation is critical. 

But with 3.6 million Americans missing out on medical care due to transportation issues, getting to follow-up appointments, physical therapy sessions, or picking up medications can be difficult for postsurgical patients — particularly for those who lack reliable transportation or live in areas with limited healthcare access.

Unexpected symptoms or side effects

Although providers usually commit time and energy to preparing patients for post-surgery recovery, there’s always an element of surprise. Patients can experience symptoms they hadn’t anticipated or concerning side effects from medications.

Let’s take nausea, for example. One study found anywhere from 20%-40% of patients experience nausea or vomiting after surgery. Such a symptom could cause panic for individuals healing from procedures and could even result in unnecessary readmissions.

How conversational AI can assist postsurgical patients

Innovations that use conversational AI in healthcare have emerged as possible solutions to many points of friction patients experience after surgery. Intelligent care enablement — scalable technology that supports both patients and care teams through complex clinical episodes to more efficiently deliver personalized, proactive, and coordinated care — specifically uses AI in a few different ways to do so:

1. Helps patients understand and stick to medication plans

Medication adherence is tied to better outcomes for a whole host of different surgeries. This is particularly evident when it comes to transplants. According to one source, “Nearly 60% of all late acute rejections and 30%-35% of graft losses are caused by [medication] non-compliance.” On top of that, re-hospitalization due to rejections and subsequent treatments are costly for patients and the healthcare system at large.

So how do providers prevent nonadherence in the first place? Research has found a 19% higher risk of nonadherence for patients who interact with a physician who doesn’t communicate well. Thus, the best strategy for reinforcing adherence is clear and consistent communication that helps patients understand their medication instructions.

However, maintaining effective communication can be challenging once an individual leaves the hospital. Attempting to reach patients by phone simply isn’t scalable — and some evidence shows it isn’t effective in the first place.

That’s one area where technology can help significantly. Intelligent care enablement platforms like Memora Health not only remind patients to take their medications after surgery. They also leverage conversational AI to engage individuals and provide them with information about their care plans, possibly resolving routine uncertainties related to treatment. These innovations actively assess whether individuals were able to take their prescriptions, and, if not, why they missed their doses — ultimately recording this information in a clinician-facing dashboard for maximum accessibility and to assist with follow-up action.

2. Answers patient questions about the postoperative period

Questions are common after surgery. They include everything from concerns about symptoms — like nausea and swelling — to more urgent worries over postoperative emergencies, like blood clotting. Whatever uncertainty emerges, they can cause significant stress for individuals healing at home — especially when they’re unexpected. Now away from the clinical setting, the next logical step for patients is to call or visit the hospital.

Some simple messaging tools have sought to address this issue by connecting patients and providers through digital interfaces. Although well-intentioned, what usually ends up happening is correspondences flood into a provider's inbox, adding more to-dos to an already full schedule. In fact, primary care providers now spend almost an hour per workday answering inbox messages — including 19 minutes after regular shift hours.

As a result, questions go unanswered for longer than desired, clinicians are more distracted from top-of-license activities, and everyone experiences less efficient and satisfactory care delivery.

Advanced technologies like Memora’s digital healthcare platform use NLP to understand patient concerns about symptoms and side effects, then use a conversational AI assistant to respond by accessing a vast and evidence-based database of relevant answers. That means patients can get the accurate information they need when they need it, and clinicians’ inboxes are clearer than ever before.  

60% of symptoms were independently managed by Memora Health’s conversational AI in one oncology program. Read the full case study.

3. Prompts patients with surveys to understand barriers

A patient goes in for surgery, receives care instructions once they become conscious, and is given a prescription important for recovery. But there’s an issue: they don’t have a way to get to the pharmacy.

This is a common scenario that patients everywhere face time and time again. Other barriers can include financial limitations, food insecurity, lack of stable housing, and unsafe living conditions.

According to the American College of Surgeons, SDOH can have a significant impact on surgical outcomes. Importantly, it suggests it’s up to providers to assess SDOH, as well as deploy strategies to conduct socially responsible surgeries and help patients manage their recoveries. 

Forward-thinking, AI-equipped technology is built to collect data on and help address SDOH. Specifically, Memora’s intelligent care enablement platform can ask patients about their barriers to completing postsurgical care steps — such as acquiring a certain medication or attending an upcoming follow-up appointment — and records feedback for their care teams to review, while surfacing helpful resources (e.g., free or affordable transportation options, financial assistance programs, etc.) to assist them in overcoming these challenges.

4. Automatically triages patient concerns to the right care team member

As it’s been noted, technology that uses conversational AI can effectively answer a lot of routine patient questions after surgery. But what about when rare — but concerning — events take place while healing at home?

Within the walls of the hospital, patients can notify a care team member about their concerns and receive face-to-face assistance. Not every concern warrants medical action. But having that option to consult a healthcare professional within reach provides a level of comfort most individuals recovering at home don’t experience.

Luckily, Memora’s innovative Care Programs are developed with automated triaging. When our platform’s conversational AI recognizes a concerning or confusing message, it independently notifies the right provider to follow up manually. It also simplifies care coordination in these cases, allowing clinicians to tag other specialists in the same dashboard if needed. Patients get their concerns answered, clinicians still see reductions in inbox volumes, and post-surgery care management becomes more efficient and effective.

Sitting in the waiting room before a surgery is stressful enough. Being uncertain about how to take care of yourself once you get discharged only adds to an already overwhelming experience. Innovative digital health tools that use conversational AI to bridge gaps in postsurgical care offer real solutions to the many issues patients face after leaving the hospital. 

Want to find out more about how Memora’s platform helps support postsurgical care management? Speak with one of our experts!