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Reducing Readmissions Must be Addressed Across the Care Continuum

By Byron C. Scott/Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Byron Scott imageA lot of attention has been given to hospital readmissions in recent years, and the establishment of a readmission outcome measure by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in value based purchasing has incentivized hospitals to work diligently on the problem. The recent article in Kaiser Health News about Beth Israel Deaconess highlights the challenges and obstacles we must overcame to reduce readmissions. The reasons to address this issue go beyond the cost of it. One reason alone should be to improve the overall quality by preventing the re-exposure of a patient to the hospital environment where they can be subject to hospital-acquired infections and other safety concerns, such as falls.

For some of the top readmission diagnosis like Heart Failure and Pneumonia, the biggest obstacles to reducing readmissions have been not what goes on in the hospital, but what occurs when the patient is discharged. It really involves more about the psychosocial aspect of healthcare than the science of the disease and treating it. When the patient is discharged after a heart failure exacerbation, the medical component is typically stabilized. The failures often occur in the process, communication, and overall care coordination. 
  • Was the follow-up outpatient procedure scheduled before discharge?
  • Is a family member or caregiver aware of the follow-up appointment?
  • Can the family member or caregiver drive the patient to the follow-up appointment? 
  • Did the patient receive the proper diet instructions before discharge?
  • Do they have the resources at home to help comply with the dietary guidelines?
  • Can the patient afford the prescribed medications, and does the patient understand the instructions for taking their medications?
  • If the patient needs outpatient intravenous antibiotics, were home health services arranged? 
These are some of the questions that must be asked in order to reduce the risk of readmission.

Hospital systems and hospitals that have been successful in reducing readmissions have ensured a coordinated team of visiting nurses, social workers, pharmacist, and case workers all work together to coordinate the process, education, follow-up visits, and overall answers to questions that may come up to family and patients. The future of our healthcare system  will be tied to coordinating care using an overall population health analytics system that not only tracts information across inpatient and outpatient settings, but also enables all care providers to communicate more effectively, tying in real time surveillance, monitoring, and alerts. Therefore no matter where the patient is along the continuum (inpatient, outpatient, emergency department, or home) and whoever is interacting with the patient, information is constantly brought together and communicated to improve the health of the patient and reduce risk of readmission for high risk patients and chronic disease.

Byron C. Scott, MD, MBA, FACPE
Medical Director, National Clinical Medical Leader
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