Hospitals work to keep patients from returning shortly after leaving

Hospitals work to keep patients from returning shortly after leaving

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SALT LAKE CITY — Recent reports show nearly one out of every five Medicare patients are readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of leaving one. These early readmissions can costs hospitals a lot of money. What are administrators in Utah doing to stop the problem?

The issue of readmissions is heavy on the minds of hospital administrators. Just last fall, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service started withholding Medicare payments to hospitals for readmissions that could have been avoided.

Utah Hospital Association Director of Community Affairs Jill Vicory said, "The lower the readmissions, the better [it is] for hospitals and obviously better for patients."

Readmission Rates
Regional rate for 30-day medical readmissions
  • Highest - 18.1% in Bronx, NY
  • Lowest - 11.4% in Ogden, Utah
  • National average - 15.9%

In some cases, readmissions can't be avoided. Vicory said some patients stop following their doctor's discharge orders when they feel normal again. She said older patients used to believe that since their doctors knew all about their necessary treatments, the patient didn't need to understand them as well. Also, hospital administrators used to feel that they were only responsible for the patients while they were directly in their care.

"There has been a culture shift there, to realize that it's our job to make sure that the patient goes home with the appropriate discharge instructions, that they understand those instructions and that they are armed with everything they need," Vicory said.

She said the discharge process is getting more refined so that people know exactly what they need to do when they get home.


Plus, hospitals are doing more to ensure that family members of the patient can help them when they need to have their prescriptions filled or go to their follow-up appointments.

"A lot of the responsibility falls on the patient and family as well as the hospital and the provider," Vicory said.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation offered the following tips for avoiding readmission:

  • Ask and ask again
  • Repeat back the information
  • Have a discharge plan
  • Manage your medications
  • Keep appointments
  • Know what to do if you don't feel well

Utah has the lowest readmission rates in the country, in some areas, Vicory said. But there are always areas for improvement, she added.

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Paul Nelson


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