The U.S. health care system suffers from a chronic malady -- the revolving door syndrome at its hospitals. It is so bad that the federal government says one in five elderly patients is back in the hospital within 30 days of leaving.Some return trips are predictable elements of a treatment plan. Others are unplanned but difficult to prevent: patients go home, new and unexpected problems arise, and they require an immediate trip back to the hospital.
But many of these readmissions can and should be prevented. They are the result of a fragmented system of care that too often leaves discharged patients to their own devices, unable to follow instructions they didn't understand, and not taking medications or getting the necessary follow-up care.
The federal government has pegged the cost of readmissions for Medicare patients alone at $26 billion annually, and says more than $17 billion of it pays for return trips that need not happen if patients get the right care. This is one reason the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has identified avoidable readmissions as one of the leading problems facing the U.S. health care system and now penalizes hospitals with high rates of readmissions for their heart failure, heart attack, and pneumonia patients.
This report is being released in conjunction with the Robert Wood John Foundation's Care About Your Care initiative, which is devoted to improving care transitions when people leave the hospital. It looks at the issue of readmissions in two ways: by the numbers and through the eyes of the people who live them.