3 ways to help reduce hospital readmissions

The enormous push continues to reduce readmissions, due in no small part to stiff financial penalties from CMS for the worst performing hospitals. The most commonly cited statistic is that about 1 in 5, or 20 percent, of Medicare patients are readmitted within 30 days. A staggeringly high number when you think about it. Having discharged thousands of patients and seen the characteristics of those patients that are frequently readmitted (who are unfortunately called “frequent flyers” in hospital circles), here are my 3 ways to help solve the problem.

1. Focused targeting. When we talk about readmissions, the first step is to identify those patients who are at the highest risk of coming straight back into the hospital. It’s a mix of socioeconomic status, demographics, social support, education, and most importantly baseline comorbidities and functional status. If your readmission program targets “everyone”, it will expend too much energy on the vast majority of people who don’t get readmitted. Employing Pareto’s principle: Remember that 80 percent or more readmissions will come from 20 or less percent of the same patients.

2. Discharge process. Discharging a patient in the typical rushed environment of a hospital is too often haphazard and disjointed. This is the one chance to make sure that all the paperwork and instructions are as thorough and comprehensive as possible. Exhaustively educate the patient and family. It should be the physician that leads this process. Much is made of a discharge taking at least 30 minutes — but perhaps even an hour would be a better time. The problem with this? It’s not as simple as it sounds. In the real word of economic pressures for both doctors and hospitals, spending an hour with every patient you discharge isn’t really possible (that’s not just a problem for U.S. medicine, because socialized countries in fact usually see more patients in even less time).

3. Intense primary care. Studies may show differing results, but I can tell you with certainty that patients with strong primary care follow-up and outpatient monitoring are definitely less likely to be readmitted. Make sure those high-risk patients have close follow-up ideally within a day or two of exiting the hospital.

The drive to reduce readmissions is a noble one. But we have to be realistic too. With an ageing population, this issue is going to remain at the forefront. The nature of an illness is that it’s a fragile time for our patients, and particularly for those with chronic underlying illnesses such as COPD or congestive heart failure. It doesn’t take much to push things over the edge and for people to be sick enough to require a hospital bed. Battling nature can be hard. The question is: How can we best minimize the likelihood of the next setback and continue to keep more and more people out of hospital and in the comforts of their own home?

Suneel Dhand is an internal medicine physician and author of Thomas Jefferson: Lessons from a Secret Buddha and High Percentage Wellness Steps: Natural, Proven, Everyday Steps to Improve Your Health & Well-being.  He blogs at his self-titled site, Suneel Dhand.

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