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Hospitals’ readmission rates not budging

July 20, 2012
by Patricia Sheehan
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U.S. hospitals are making little progress in reducing patient readmissions despite government initiatives and looming financial penalties, according to Medicare data released Thursday, reports Kaiser Health News.

“We've put all of this policy effort into this area, and yet we're seeing no movement," said Ashish Jha, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, in the news report. "Either we have no idea how to really improve readmissions, or most of the readmissions are not preventable and the efforts being put on it are not useful."

Medicare calculates readmission rates over three years. The most recent rates are based on readmissions spanning July 2008 through the end of June 2011. According to the news report, the Medicare data published Thursday on its Hospital Compare website showed that 19.7 percent of heart attack patients were readmitted within 30 days of discharge, a drop of only 0.1 percentage point from the previous year’s figures, which were based on the years 2007 through 2010. The data show that 24.7 percent of heart failure patients were readmitted, also a 0.1 point decrease. Pneumonia readmissions actually increased by 0.1 percentage points, to 18.5 percent of all Medicare pneumonia patients.

Nancy Foster, a vice president at the American Hospital Association, told Kaiser Health News that the new readmission figures downplay improvements hospitals made in 2011, since they also include two years of earlier readmissions. In addition, she said in an e-mail, "We are seeing precipitous drops in admissions for all three of these conditions, and we suspect it is because the patients who are relatively well are being better managed in the ambulatory setting." The sicker patients, she said are admitted and are more likely to end up back in the hospital.

In addition to the penalties, the Obama administration is implementing other efforts to reduce readmissions. It is offering $500 million to help hospitals and other healthcare providers improve the transitions of patients out of the hospital. The administration also has approved 154 accountable care organizations.

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