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When you're out of the hospital, are you out of the woods?

Consumer Reports News: December 12, 2012 01:38 PM

If you think leaving the hospital means you're home for good, think again. About twenty percent of heart attack and pneumonia patients, and a quarter of heart failure patients, find themselves back in the hospital within 30 days, according to our updated hospital Ratings. And our new analysis shows that those rates aren't getting better.

The most recent data cover patients discharged between July 2008 and June 2011, which we compared against data from two years earlier, between July 2006 and June 2009. The information is from the Federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and shows an estimate of the likelihood that a heart attack, heart failure, or pneumonia patient will be readmitted to any hospital, for any condition, within 30 days of his or her initial discharge.

Readmission rates give important insights to hospital safety for several reasons. First, hospitals are inherently risky places, so being readmitted exposes you to additional risk. Having to be readmitted can also indicate that something went awry during your initial discharge, like poor planning for your home care. Or maybe that something went wrong during your hospital stay, like you developed a hospital-acquired infection that only became apparent when you got home.

To make your discharge as smooth as possible:

  • See a discharge planner well in advance of your departure to arrange for services or supplies you'll need at home.
  • Get a written summary of what to do when you get home, including drugs you need, how to care for wounds, how active you can be, and when you can shower, drive, return to work, and eat normally.
  • Get results of tests done while in the hospital and ask what tests you'll need after you leave and when you'll need them.
  • See your primary-care doctor within 10 days of going home.

For more advice, see our tips for staying safe in the hospital. And check out our hospital Ratings to see how your hospital fares on readmissions on other measures of hospital quality.

Abbe Herzig

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