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Hospital readmission rates often too high, our Ratings find

Consumer Reports News: September 26, 2011 04:38 PM

Think checking out of the hospital means you’re leaving for good? Think again. Our updated hospital Ratings found that hospitals too often have revolving doors: heart attack, heart failure, and pneumonia patients at the average U.S. hospital had a 20 percent chance of being readmitted within 30 days of their initial discharge.

Overall, the results were so dismal that nearly 70 percent of the 2,432 hospitals in our analysis received our lowest or second lowest Rating for hospital readmissions. And not one got our top Rating for that measure. Equally worrisome, hospitals showed no improvement compared with last year’s Ratings, on average, even though there are a number of proven ways to lower readmission rates. Our Ratings also show that many hospitals fail to give adequate information to patients about the care they’ll need after they leave the hospital.

The Ratings are based on Medicare data provided by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In all cases, the data are adjusted to reflect the varying health status of the patients the hospitals treat.

In four of the worst performing hospitals, heart failure patients had a 33 percent chance of being readmitted. Those four were St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Medical Center and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, both in New York City, the Medical Center of Southeastern Oklahoma, in Durant, and the Sandhills Regional Medical Center in Hamlet, N.C.

Even at the best-performing hospitals, pneumonia patients had a more than 10 percent chance of having to return to the hospital for additional care. For heart attack and heart failure patients, the chances were more than 15 percent.

Teaching hospitals did not fare well. More than 80 percent of them received one of our lowest two Ratings. Only two teaching hospitals—Greenville Memorial Hospital, in South Carolina, and Ball Memorial Hospital, in Muncie, Ind.—got our second-highest Rating for readmissions.

Hospital readmissions contribute to more than $17 billion dollars in wasted spending each year, some research suggests. To try to reduce the trend, starting next year the government will cut payments to hospitals with “excess readmissions” for heart failure, heart attack, and pneumonia. And researchers have found a number of strategies hospitals can adopt to reduce readmissions, such as making sure patients are scheduled to have follow-up appointments or at-home visits after being discharged.

For details on steps you can take to make discharge smoother, see our report, 6 things to do when you leave the hospital.

In addition, use our updated hospital Ratings to find hospitals in your area with low readmission rates. Or try our new hospital Ratings app, which can be downloaded from the iTunes app store for $2.99.

Joel Keehn

   

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