Healthcare Business News
Dr. David Goodman, co-principal investigator for the Dartmouth Atlas Project

Hospitals failing to curb readmissions: study

By Maureen McKinney
Posted: February 11, 2013 - 1:45 pm ET

Hospital readmission rates among Medicare patients held stubbornly steady from 2008 to 2010, despite increasing federal attention and attempts by providers to address the issue.

That's according to a report from the Washington-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which found that 30-day readmission rates had remained “virtually unchanged” throughout the two-year period. The 60-page report, produced by researchers from the Dartmouth Atlas Project, used Medicare data to conclude that the national readmission rate in 2010—15.9%—was the same as it was in 2004.

Regional differences were substantial, however. Readmission rates after a medical admission ranged from 18.1% in Bronx, N.Y., to 11.4% in Ogden, Utah. Following a surgical admission, the differences were even wider, ranging from 18.3% in Bronx to 7.6% in Bend, Ore. In general, areas with higher hospital utilization rates tended to have higher readmission rates, the authors said.

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“While there are certainly pockets of improvement, as a nation, we have a long ways to go,” said Dr. David Goodman, co-principal investigator for the Dartmouth Atlas Project. “Variation in the quality of care between health systems is hard for patients and practicing physicians to see, but the differences are substantial. And many patients are readmitted simply because they live in a region where the hospital is used more frequently as the site of care.”

The report also included a section of 32 personal stories from patients, caregivers and clinicians. Gathered through interviews conducted by an outside research firm, the goal of collecting the stories was to shed light on some of the factors that cause patients to end up back in the hospital, the authors said in the report.

The findings come months after the federal government launched its readmissions reduction program, which imposes financial penalties ranging from 0.01% to 1% on hospitals with higher-than-expected readmission rates. Those penalties are scheduled to jump to 2% in 2014 and 3% in 2015.

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