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Surgical Readmissions and Quality of Care

Surgical Readmissions and Quality of Care

Throughout the United States, reducing the rates of hospital readmissions has become a top priority, as evidenced by CMS planning to include surgical procedures in the expansion of the penalty program. “The hospital readmissions reduction program is predicated on the notion that decreasing the frequency with which patients return to hospitals can improve care and lower costs,” says Thomas C. Tsai, MD, MPH. “However, using medical readmission rates as a measure of hospital quality has been controversial.” Hospitals vary substantially in their medical readmission rates, but these data generally do not correlate with the measures that are often used to identify high-quality hospitals, such as mortality. This raises the question of whether or not medical readmission rates actually measure hospital quality or if they instead reflect other factors that are unrelated to hospital care. The relationship between readmission rates and surgical care may be different than that of medical readmissions. Most patients undergo non-urgent major surgery when they’re clinically stable. As a result, surgical readmissions are more likely to result from complications of care received during index hospitalizations. “Clinicians have relatively little information on the types of hospitals that perform well or poorly with regard to surgical readmission rates,” says Dr. Tsai, “but we hypothesized that hospitals excelling in surgical care would generally have fewer readmissions.” A Comprehensive Analysis In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Tsai and colleagues sought to determine the patterns of surgical readmissions among Medicare patients across a set of major procedures in a national sample of hospitals. The study team combined information from Medicare claims, the American Hospital Association...
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