Hospital readmissions can indicate a breakdown in caregiving, whether in the act of transferring a patient from one care environment to another, or between and facility and home. In the efforts of CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) to control expenditures for care, readmissions are a target, because they involve a patient’s return to the most costly care possible, inpatient hospital care.
An earlier HealthStream blog post about readmissions shared the CMS readmission definition as someone who has been readmitted to the same or another acute care facility within 30 days of an initial hospital stay. CMS has focused its efforts on reducing readmissions multiple common conditions linked to a large majority of preventable readmissions. The same post offered that in 2015 one in five elderly patients was readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of discharge, costing Medicare some $15 billion per year. Some of the things we know about readmissions include:
There are definitely things hospitals can do to improve their readmissions. Here are some of things listed in a previous HealthStream post:
The cost of hospital readmissions is enormous, estimated to be in the vicinity of $26 billion annually (Wilson, 2019), so it’s no wonder Medicare is working to reduce this amount. According to the Advisory Board, “In FY 2019, 82% of hospitals in the program received readmissions penalties. While research shows national readmission rates have fallen since the program took effect, some experts note that HRRP does not count ED visits or observation stays as readmissions, and question whether readmissions actually decreased or if hospitals are avoiding admitting Medicare patients” (Advisory Board, 2019). The same article suggests that hospitals may have changed their tactics, leading to a sizeable increase in treat-and-discharge visits to the ED or observation stays, which do not count as readmissions. A study of more than three million hospital stays from 2012 to 2015 “found that the total number of 30-day return visits to the hospital—which included ED visits and observation stays—per 100,000 discharges increased by 23 visits per month” (Advisory Board, 2019), even as official readmissions decreased by 23 visits per month. This unintended consequence, of using ED visits and observation status stays, may be shifting more financial obligations to patients or at least preventing hospitals from being penalized to the same degree.
When it comes to the emotional toll of readmissions, it is important to understand how rarely patients and direct caregivers have been asked about the process. One study showed that patients often felt that their readmissions were preventable and linked them to issues with “discharge timing, follow-up, home health and skilled services” (Smeraglio et al., 2019). It’s not hard to imagine the frustration that could be the result of this perceived failure. At the same time, the care providers involved failed to recognize their potential role in the readmission. The same article mentions that “review by a RN case manager found in 49% of readmissions the hospital system had some amount of opportunity to improve the discharge process. The RN case managers more often agreed with the patient’s perspective of readmission than the provider’s” (Smeraglio et al., 2019). Here again, the emotional toll of a care workplace with inadequate support and high patient volumes might cause some of the problems in discharge planning, care transitions, and patient education.
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