Healthcare News & Insights

Study: Shorter hospital stays aren’t detrimental to patient care

Just because patients have shorter hospital stays, it doesn’t mean they’re more likely to return, according to an analysis of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals.

Researchers looking at data from over 4 million patients of 129 VA hospitals across the country found that, in the last 14 years, lengths of stay for patients decreased by 27%.

The research team expected to see a correlating rise in readmissions and deaths, but discovered just the opposite, according to an article published by HealthDay.

Readmissions rates went down by 16% in the same time period, and death rates dropped by 3% after both 30 and 90 days.

A particular focus was placed on five common health conditions: heart failure, heart attack, pneumonia, gastrointestinal hemorrhage and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Several of these conditions are part of quality measures used by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to determine a hospital’s effectiveness in providing care.

There were marked improvements in readmissions rates for all five conditions. In particular, there was a nearly 3% decrease in readmissions for heart attack patients, as well as a 3% reduction for patients with COPD.

Care coordination is key

According to researchers, improvements in these figures can be chalked up to the integration of care in the VA system, a concept that CMS is encouraging in hospitals across the country with its accountable care organizations and their focus on creating patient-centered medical homes.

Over the years, VA hospitals have made strides with coordinating patient care post-discharge. They’ve also given patients better access to primary care providers. This initiative has led to improved patient satisfaction and quality of care.

The importance of timing

Although shorter hospital stays don’t seem to have a detrimental effect on patient health, it’s still not wise to discharge a patient too early.

In fact, according to the study, if a patient’s length of stay is shorter than warranted by his or her condition, the risk of readmission went up by 6%.

So even if a patient is showing substantial improvement, hospitals shouldn’t be tempted to release the person too early, lest they risk a quick relapse.

A balancing act

With hospitals striving to save healthcare costs while providing the best care for patients, a balance must be struck between keeping hospital stays brief and thoroughly treating the patient’s condition if avoiding readmissions is the goal.

The best treatment plan gives patients the tools they need to facilitate their recovery while they’re in the hospital. Staff must be trained to relay info to patients clearly and quickly.

Hospital staff must also use the time allotted for the patient’s stay effectively, providing proper care in a reasonable time frame. Any delays in treatment, such as a late dose of a medication, can cause complications down the road that increase the likelihood of readmission.

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