Since the Department of Health and Human Services established a readmission reduction program as part of the Affordable Care Act of 2010, sharp focus on the cost of readmissions has been top of mind. The program, effective October 1, 2012, was designed to provide incentives for hospitals to implement strategies that reduce costs and the number of unnecessary hospital readmissions.
Last week, Consumer Reports, a watch-dog service that has been rating consumer products and services since 1936, published its own assessment of the readmissions issue and brought to light a reality that industry experts have known for years: The costs of avoidable readmissions are incredibly high. In fact, they cost American taxpayers an estimated $17 billion annually.
However, the monetary price tag for avoidable readmissions doesn’t begin to quantify the intangible costs, not the least of which is the mental and physical strain placed on patients and the families who love them.
The Consumer Reports article summarizes the consequences of the readmissions issue from all angles, including increased health risks that result simply from having to re-enter the hospital environment (infection, medical errors, medical side-effects), along with the role played by quality disparities in the hospitals themselves. It is not surprising that hospitals with high readmission rates are also those with markedly higher incidence of readmission, lower quality scores and less positive reported patient outcomes. According to the Journals of the American Heart Association, part of the equation can also be calculated using factors including the hospital’s level of intensity, size and case mix.
As a conclusion to its report, Consumer Reports targets discharge planning as key not only to containing avoidable readmissions, but also to ensuring more positive patient outcomes. The concept of beginning the discharge process the moment a patient enters the door has not been a part of the traditional health-care process. With integrated medical records systems and scalable technology solutions, this practice has not only become possible, but also part of a best practice scenario for health-care organizations looking to find better ways to reduce readmission costs.
Implementing technology-based care coordination solutions provides hospitals with 24/7 oversight of patients, their adherence to medical instructions and clear-cut mechanisms to alert care teams when a patient is at-risk for compromised care in, or outside of, the hospital’s line of sight. Technology solutions will be key to closing the loop for discharged patients and their care teams.
The fact that the readmissions issue became a target of evaluation for Consumer Reports only underscores that health-care consumers are expected to be more involved in creating a positive health-care outcome of care for themselves or their family members. Now that the report is in, we will continue to watch how consumers and the hospitals that serve them respond to the identified need for better care coordination solutions.
If you would like to read more about the costs surrounding preventable readmissions, read our e-book, "3 Key Strategies to Reduce Costly Readmissions & Medicare Penalties."