Healthcare News & Insights

Why elderly patients may need longer hospital stays

Lowering patients’ readmission rates can be challenging for hospitals. Sometimes, a longer stay may be just what a patient needs to prevent a readmission within 30 days – especially if the person’s older and being discharged to a rehabilitation center or skilled nursing facility. 

According to new research in the American Journal of Geriatrics, hospitals need to take caution before discharging elderly patients, since certain factors make them more likely to be readmitted.

Causes of readmissions

As stated in a news release about the study, more than 25% of Medicare patients are sent to post-acute care facilities like rehab centers once discharged from the hospital, and 23% of these patients end up returning to the hospital within 30 days. Many are back in the hospital within a week.

To find out why this happens, researchers looked at data for over 81,000 adults who were readmitted to the hospital after being discharged to post-acute care facilities. They compared information about those who were readmitted up to seven days after discharge and those who experienced a readmission between eight and 30 days after their original hospital stays.

Here’s what researchers discovered: Elderly patients who had multiple chronic diseases were more likely to be readmitted shortly after their hospital stay, compared to others who were readmitted later. In addition, those who experienced shorter hospital stays also had a higher chance of being readmitted.

Patients were also more likely to be readmitted to the hospital if they were discharged from a smaller hospital to a post-acute care facility, lived in a rural area, or were originally admitted to the hospital to treat a heart attack or pneumonia.

Researchers theorized that these older patients were likely not given enough time to fully recover from their conditions in the hospital before being discharged. So once their treatment wasn’t monitored as closely, their illnesses quickly worsened.

One of the best ways to keep this from happening, researchers said, is improving communication between clinical staff, patients and their families. Having honest discussions to make sure patients are ready to leave the hospital, and clearly understand any discharge instructions, are essential to any unnecessary readmissions.

It’s also important to ensure that all of patients’ diagnosed conditions are managed effectively while they’re in the hospital, as diagnosis-related issues play a significant role in readmissions. Providers and patients should be on the same page regarding any chronic disease management plans patients must follow after discharge. This will help them recover more effectively and avoid additional hospitalizations.

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