What’s the Real Cause of Hospital Readmissions?

Posted on February 24, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

To a person, I’m sure that every hospital has a detailed understanding of their hospital readmission number. Reimbursement depends on it and so every one or them knows that number well. However, how many of them really know the cause of their hospital readmissions?

As I consider the various companies working to reduce hospital readmissions, the vast majority (possibly all) of the ones I’ve seen and heard have focused on home health technologies. In theory, the idea makes sense. Someone is discharged from a hospital and so we need to provide them better home health technologies that can prevent them from returning to the hospital. This is the promise of home health technology and the media loves to cover it.

However, in a recent pre-HIMSS Google+ video briefing I did with Capsule, Stuart Long, their Chief Marketing and Sales Officer, made a comment about hospital readmissions that I’d never heard before. He said that the majority of readmits were coming from long term care and skilled nursing facilities and not from the home.

I found this to be a fascinating finding and one that made a lot of sense. However, I pressed him to know where he got the data for it. Since it was done from an internal survey, he offered me the following explanation of the finding:

Recently, Capsule surveyed the market to assess the level of financial pain that hospitals were feeling due to the Medicare penalties associated with 30 day readmissions coming from the patient’s home. We found that technology, although market buzz suggests otherwise, was not the main driver for hospitals mitigating the risk of penalty expenses associated with readmissions. To our surprise our survey of hospital CFO’s revealed that to date it has been the improvement of existing and newly deployed care processes that has had the most significant impact on the management of – in some cases even the reduction of – patient readmissions.

However, a consistent theme that was discovered across our survey was that the hospital readmission issues are not primarily coming from the home, but from long-term care (LTC) facilities and skilled nursing facilities (SNFs). Key points discovered include:

  • 60%-80% of readmits come from LTC & SNF
    • Mostly due to high co-morbidity (High number of simultaneous chronic diseases).
    • Discharges can vary to location based upon relationships with LTC’s and SNF. As high as 33% of patients to SNF, LTC and Home Health to “in network partners” where they have control through people and process.
      • 66% of discharges, however are “outside the network” to LTC and SNF where they have no insight to the patient.

This survey data supports the need for healthcare facilities to have a Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) System & Clinical Decision Support solution for this population due to Accountable Care Organizations (ACO) and capitated reimbursement. To be able to effectively reduce readmissions and provide the best treatment of patients, much better care coordination is needed. For starters,

  • Data MUST be communicated to the primary physician. There is a driving need to send data to multiple caregivers.
  • There is a need to notify the primary physician or responsible caregiver in the event the patient show’s early signs of deterioration.

The additional challenge with the home is how to manage patient compliance. The current trend is to send an RN, Nurse Assistant, Case Manager or other outside company to the home for care.

Further to this point, a paper published by the Department of Health and Human Services OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL; “MEDICARE NURSING HOME RESIDENT HOSPITALIZATION RATES MERIT ADDITIONAL MONITORING” November, 2013 can be found here. This paper substantiates the problem with a specific disease condition that contributes to the high readmission rates from LTC and SNF’s.

In FY 2011, nursing homes transferred one quarter of their Medicare residents to hospitals for inpatient admissions, and Medicare spent an astonishing $14.3 billion on these hospitalizations. Nursing home residents went to hospitals for a wide range of conditions, with septicemia the most common.

I think this is a really important finding and I’d love to have it validated by readers of this site who have data from their hospital. Do you see the same thing happening with your hospital readmissions or something else?

If we assume that this finding is true, then the solution to the problem of hospital readmissions is very different than I previously thought. I think Capsule sees it as a tremendous opportunity for them to leverage their skills with connected devices in places like long term care and skilled nursing facilities.

As part of this strategy, Capsule just announced at HIMSS 2014 a new medical device information system that they’re developing. At first this sounded more like a device tracking system for medical devices. Is the device working properly? Where is the device? etc. Certainly it will have those features, but Capsule is looking at this medical device information system from a much larger perspective. They want the system to Connect, Monitor, Analyze, and Act. Connecting is what they’ve always done. Monitoring is the medical device management piece. However, Analyzing and Acting on the data those devices collects puts Capsule in a very new space.

I’ll be interested to see how deep Capsule goes with this and who they choose to partner with to put together the intelligence behind the “Analyze” and “Act” components. This will take some work and many will argue that this type of stuff should be done in the EHR. However, you have to remember that long term care and skilled nursing facilities were left out of the EHR incentive money and are way behind the rest of healthcare in IT adoption. Could these post-acute facilities put in a medical device information system from Capsule as a way to reduce hospital readmissions? Seems like an interesting and reasonable strategy to me. Plus, the hospital would be happy to pay for it if will indeed reduce their hospital readmissions.