Utah hospitals have fewer seniors returning after surgery than their competitors nationally, an analysis of Medicare data shows.
Hospitals with high readmission rates from 2008 to 2011 face losing up to 1 percent of next year's Medicare payments.
Of 2,217 hospitals nationally, 71 percent were penalized for having too many Medicare patients return within 30 days after they were treated for heart attacks, heart failure and pneumonia, according to Kaiser Health News.
Idaho was the only state to escape sanction.
Utah where two of 28 hospitals were cited had the lowest average penalty amount, followed by South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming, Kaiser reports.
Brigham City Community Hospital was hit with a nominal, 0.06 percent penalty, which translates to $998 in lost revenue. Timpanogos Regional took a 0.30 percent hit, or $14,000, said Audrey Glasby, a spokeswoman for HCA MountainStar. The for-profit chain owns both hospitals.
Those losses were largely offset by rewards from Medicare for meeting national standards of care for heart attacks, heart failure and pneumonia, Glasby said.
She said both hospitals have hired hospitalists, doctors charged with reinforcing national standards of care. They make sure patients are discharged with accurate medication lists and directions on their safe usage. And patient advocates help seniors schedule follow-up appointments.
Industry experts caution against placing too much emphasis on readmission penalties.
The U.S. government's "Hospital Compare" website shows Brigham City Hospital and Timpanogos Regional have close to average readmission rates, said Doug Hasbrouck, the medical director at HealthInsight, a non-profit that consults hospitals on quality improvement.
"Our state readmission rate has been well below average for some time," he said.
Hasbrouck credits Utah's homogenous culture and close family ties. "We also have a good health care system here," he said.
Jill Vicory, a spokeswoman for the Utah Hospital Association, noted, "People here also tend to be more compliant in following doctor's orders."
Whether Utah, given its aging population and growing poverty rate, will always compare so favorably remains to be seen.
This first round of Medicare penalties fell heaviest on hospitals that cater to the poorest patients, according to Kaiser.
One area of focus for Utah now is better discharge planning for seniors without family supports, said Vicory. "All the hospitals are trying to do a better job with transfers to and from long-term care facilities."