June 25, 2017
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Area Hospitals Feel ‘Squeeze’ to Improve Patient Safety

An article appearing in the Indianapolis Star reports on how hospitals are now coming around to reducing the occurrence of patient readmissions within 30 days of their original discharge.  The measures, including improved discharged planning, “health coaching” and “telehealth” monitoring are beginning to be instituted to discharged patients at area hospitals mainly for those patients in three key groups.  These groups include patients originally admitted for heart attacks, pneumonia, and congestive heart failure.  The reason for the sudden concern among so many hospitals is that beginning late last year Medicare began imposing financial penalties to hospitals with above average hospital readmission rates.

While the improvements are a welcome sight and a true step forward for patient safety, it also highlights the fact that often patients are viewed by corporate health centers for their ‘bottom line’ and not for the quality of care given to them.  In the article, Dr. Alan Snell, chief medical informatics officer at St. Vincent Health, is quoted as saying “We have to be smart now and not focus on what brings in revenue through reimbursement, but we have to be smarter and say what is the true cost of caring for that patient.”  The new cost structure not only curtails reimbursements to hospitals with higher than average readmission rates, but also ceases readmission payments for those patients in the key groups mentioned.  Dr. Snell is quoted in the article as responding to the non-payments as such, “We were OK on the penalty but if you add up all of the acute myocardial infarctions (heart attacks) pneumonia and heart failure and readmissions, it’s in the thousands for us,” he said. “It’s a huge potential risk for non-payment if we don’t do anything.”

The cost changes are part of improvements to address what studies have shown is an alarming rate of hospital readmissions due to adverse events within the first few weeks of hospital discharge.  The Star article cites a recently published study from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation where the key finding found that 12.5% of Medicare patients were readmitted within 30 days of being released after surgery in 2010, and 17% of patients who received medical care returned to the hospital within a month of their discharge.  The study shows little improvement from a similar study conducted in 2003 and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that showed 20% of Medicare patients experienced adverse events leading to re-hospitalization within the first three weeks post discharge, nearly three quarters of which could have been prevented or their severity lessened.

Since implementing some of the new measures, hospitals have seen a decrease in the number of patients requiring readmission.  However, until all patients are treated in the same systematic way, it is important as a patient to be diligent with your healthcare.  Healthcare professionals are required to provide patients with a standard of care throughout their stay, including their discharge.  A breakdown in any part of the system can constitute medical malpractice.  Time is of the essence in determining medical malpractice, as cases are time sensitive.  Contact our firm today for a free consultation or information on medical malpractice.

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