Public Policy

Nonclinical Factors Influence Hospital Readmissions


The role of nonclinical factors in shaping rates of rehospitalization has been explored in several recent studies—and targeted through new legislation endorsed by the Society of Hospital Medicine. A study in Health Affairs compared hospital performance on 30-day readmissions for the first three diagnoses included in penalty calculations for CMS’ Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP) and found that adjusting for patients’ socioeconomic status significantly reduced the rates of variation in readmissions between hospitals across the state of Missouri.1

For patients discharged between 2009 and 2012, analysis using a model enriched with census tract socioeconomic data found that the range of variation in readmissions between hospitals decreased to 1.8% from 6.5% for patients with acute myocardial infarction; to 7.4% from 14.0% for congestive heart failure; and to 3.7% from 7.4% for pneumonia, compared with rates unadjusted for these socioeconomic factors. Another study in the same journal by researchers at an urban teaching hospital found that patients living in high-poverty neighborhoods were 24% more likely to be readmitted to the hospital within 30 days, after adjusting for demographic and clinical characteristics.2

For a factor that may be more amenable to intervention by hospitalists, a standardized rehabilitation medicine test measuring patients’ ability to perform everyday tasks of living, such as the ability to move independently from bed to chair, wheelchair, or toilet was found to be a good predictor of readmissions.3 Few hospitals currently require assessment of their patients’ functional ability, notes the study’s lead author Erik Hoyer, MD, assistant professor in the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. But the score “is a direct reflection of the patient’s ability to heal [outside of the hospital].”

The Functional Independence Measure used in this study and in inpatient rehabilitation facilities nationwide is probably not the right tool for hospitalists because of its length and the training required to administer it, Dr. Hoyer says.

“There are other, easier tools that are available or in development that may also serve a similar purpose,” he says. “The main point is that routine functional assessment is important in the hospital setting, and developing strategies to improve patient function is likely an important way to improve outcomes such as hospital readmissions.”

The documented role of socioeconomic status in determining readmissions also is addressed by legislation introduced by Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) and supported by both the Society of Hospital Medicine and the American Hospital Association. The Establishing Beneficiary Equity in the Hospital Readmission Program Act (HR-4188) would adjust HRRP readmissions penalties to reflect “certain socioeconomic and health factors that increase the patient’s risk of readmissions.”

Larry Beresford is a freelance writer in Alameda, Calif.

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