Utah hospitals hit national average or better for readmission rates

New data » Hospital Compare Web site updated Thursday
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Utah hospitals have readmission rates that are either on par with or better than the national average, according to new data added to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' Hospital Compare Web site Thursday.

"Readmission" is when patients who have had a recent hospital stay have to go back, according to the Web site. The data are important because they could indicate how well the hospital performed the first time around.

The new rates, which were added Thursday, "will help consumers identify those providers in the community who are furnishing high-value health care with the best results," said Charlene Frizzera, CMS acting administrator.

Research shows that hospital readmissions are reducing the quality of health care while at the same time increasing costs, according to CMS. On average, about one in five Medicare beneficiaries who is discharged from a hospital today will return within a month.

"A readmission, the majority of times, is a failure of the health care system," said Donald Lappe, chairman of the cardiology department at Intermountain Medical Center. It performed above the national average for readmission rates for heart failure and pneumonia patients.

Adequate care must be given at the hospital, but also during the transition home, he said.

"It has to be both. That's critical in achieving these excellent results," he said.

The Intermountain Healthcare System, which includes IMC, has studied and strived to improve readmission rates for years.

In 2004, its six-year study of more than 57,400 heart patients showed that making sure patients received the appropriate medications and aftercare at home not only reduced their risk of readmission, but also significantly decreased their risk of death.

Researchers found a simple, inexpensive quality improvement -- a mandatory checklist for physicians to follow to ensure discharged patients are getting prescriptions and aftercare -- improved patients' chance of getting the appropriate drugs and significantly improved their outcomes.

"Best practices, best medicine, leads to better surival and fewer readmissions. We pioneered this idea starting in 1998," Lappe said.

St. Mark's Hospital -- which also performed above the national average for heart failure and pneumonia patients -- similarly tries to bridge the care from the hospital to the home.

"Our hospitalists, care teams and case managers work closely with patients and their families at the time of discharge," said MaryJoe Jones, chief clinical and nursing officer. "We go beyond providing explicit aftercare instructions and do our best to make sure that patients who have experienced heart failure, a heart attack or pneumonia see a primary care physician within seven days of discharge."

CMS also announced Thursday it has changed the way it computes mortality. It was previously based on one year of claims data and is now based on three -- from July 1, 2005, to June 30, 2008.


Utah's hospital readmission rates

New data added to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services' Hospital Compare Web site Thursday shows:

» The national rate for readmissions for heart patients is 19.9 percent. Of 34 reporting hospitals in Utah, 15 hit the average, while19 did not have enough cases to reliably tell how well they were performing.

» The national rate for readmissions for heart failure is 24.5 percent. Of 40 reporting hospitals in Utah, seven were better than the average, 21 hit the average and 12 didn't have enough cases to reliably tell how they were performing.

» The national rate for readmissions for pneumonia patients is 18.2 percent. Of 39 reporting hospitals, six performed better than average, 29 hit the average and four did not have enough cases to reliably tell how they were performing.

To view data on individual Utah hospitals, visit the CMS Web site at hospitalcompare.hhs.gov.