Healthcare News & Insights

How primary care can affect your readmissions rates

It’s becoming increasingly important for hospitals to partner with primary care practices to improve patient care. Here’s one reason: Patients’ interactions with their primary care doctors could have a significant impact on your readmissions rates and emergency department (ED) use. 

bldjl_ts_stone_22New research published in Health Affairs suggests that patients who regularly visit the same primary care provider were less likely to need treatment at the ED – or be hospitalized repeatedly in the same year.

In the study, researchers from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research looked at how often patients of a California health program visited the hospital. The doctors in the program treated patients for their general health needs and coordinated referrals to specialists for other issues.

How it worked

According to a news release, during the first year of the program, patients were allowed to change primary care doctors whenever they wanted, and their care would still be covered. This policy was discontinued for the second year of the program. Patients could only see the doctor they initially selected – and other doctors weren’t reimbursed for their care.

In the first year of the program, only 40% of patient office visits were to the initially selected provider. After the policy change, nearly 70% of visits were to the patient’s chosen doctor.

Fewer patients in the study visited the hospital for any reason during the program’s second year. Only 3.1% of patients visited the ED in the second year, compared to 4.1% in the first one. And while 1.4% of patients were hospitalized twice a year in the first year of the program, 1.2% of patients were admitted to the hospital in the second year.

Consistency matters

Seeing the same provider consistently made it easier for doctors to manage these patients’ conditions. According to the study, participants who visited the same doctor were 2.1% less likely to visit the ED, and 1.7% less likely to require hospitalization than those patients who chose to visit multiple providers.

While the differences were small, they could still add up to significant cost savings for hospitals, especially since Medicare isn’t backing off on its plans to penalize facilities for having high readmissions rates.

So along with helping patients coordinate necessary follow-ups during the discharge process, it may be a good idea to make sure they’ve been seeing the same primary care provider on a consistent basis.

And it’s important to continue partnering with local primary care practices. That way, you can help patients who don’t have a regular doctor find a provider who can help them manage their health better.

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