The fight to reduce hospital readmissions for Medicare patients may seem like an uphill battle at times. But there’s some good news from the feds: All your efforts are starting to pay off, and readmissions rates are starting to decline.
According to a blog post from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), hospitals in almost every state in the country have made significant progress toward reducing readmissions.
In the post, CMS released data about the status of its Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program, which penalizes facilities with 30-day readmissions rates that don’t meet federal targets for conditions such as pneumonia and heart attacks.
During the five-year period from 2010 to 2015, overall Medicare readmission rates decreased by 8% in U.S. hospitals.
When breaking the data down by state, 43 states saw hospital readmissions fall by over 5%, and 11 states had readmissions decrease by more than 10%. According to federal estimates, that represents over half a million readmissions avoided – 100,000 avoided in 2015 alone.
The only state that didn’t show significant improvement in its readmissions rates during this time period was Vermont. However, its readmission rates were consistent over time, with no sharp increases, coming in at 15.3% in 2010 and 15.4% in 2015.
Readmissions & mortality
Although this data shows hospitals are taking the right steps to meet federal goals, there’s still work to be done.
If your facility’s readmissions numbers aren’t where you’d like them to be just yet, take heart: They may not be as negative indicators about your quality of care as the feds make them out to be.
As described in a news release, recent research from Johns Hopkins shows there may be more to a hospital’s high 30-day readmissions rates than meets the eye. The research, published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, compares readmission rates for the same conditions examined by the feds with hospitals’ mortality rates.
The results: Hospitals with high readmissions rates were more likely to have lower mortality rates for patients being treated for heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and stroke.
CMS ties mortality rates to readmission rates in the new five-star ratings it publishes on the Hospital Compare website, but its rankings tend to imply the two have a negative relationship.
However, the new Johns Hopkins research suggests otherwise: Multiple readmissions may not increase a patient’s chance of death – they may be the only course of action a facility can take for its most medically fragile patients, and hospitals that readmit patients regularly could actually be saving lives.
That said, federal scrutiny for high readmissions rates isn’t going to stop any time soon. But hospitals that can prove they’re still providing high-quality, cost-effective care to patients, despite their readmissions rates, will likely fare better in the current healthcare climate than those that can’t.