Home From The Editor The “new problem” of unnecessary readmissions

The “new problem” of unnecessary readmissions

May 2009

Published in the May 2009 issue of Today’s Hospitalist

A MAJOR STUDY has drawn new attention to a fact that hospitalists have known for a long time: Readmissions are a costly “and sometimes unnecessary “part of health care.

The study, which was published in the April 2 New England Journal of Medicine, found that one-fifth of Medicare patients discharged from hospitals return within 30 days. More than half were medical patients who never saw an outpatient physician before bouncing back to the hospital, and 70% had surgery but needed to be rehospitalized for a completely different medical condition.

In many commentaries and news reports that highlighted the study, you could detect a sense of outrage lurking beneath the surface. Billions of dollars are being “wasted” on these rehospitalizations, commentators claimed, and somebody needs to do something about it. The race is already on to prevent all but the most necessary follow-up trips to the hospital. Medicare last month launched a demonstration project in 14 communities to reduce unnecessary readmissions. And a group of six medical societies just released a consensus statement on how to improve transitions of care with an eye to keeping readmissions to a minimum.

Depending on whether you’re a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty kind of person, all the hubbub about readmissions is either good or bad news. On the positive side, you can expect to get a lot more recognition for the role that you and your colleagues play in preventing unnecessary readmissions.

On the not-so-positive side, you may have a whole new group of administrators and policymakers breathing down your neck, wanting to know what you plan to do about the “new problem” of unnecessary readmissions. Either way, you should brace yourself for new scrutiny as the nation looks to you for ways to reduce health care costs.

edoyleEdward Doyle
Editor and Publisher