By: Judy Tingley, MPH, RN, member of the ACC’s Clinical Quality Committee.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) readmission payment penalties went into effect on Oct. 1. Mandated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, this quality improvement initiative imposes financial penalties on more than 2,200 hospitals with Medicare readmission rates above the national averages. The unintended consequence of these penalties is yet to be determined.
This new crackdown will have the greatest impact on the “safety net” hospitals that treat our poorest patients. Current studies demonstrate that much of the variance in readmissions is due to factors beyond the hospital's control. Many of these community hospitals have limited resources, antiquated medical records systems, serve late presenting and/or underinsured clients, and are at greatest risk for financially failing. This reality reaffirms that quality metrics identification and measuring outcomes has never been more important. As we move toward data driven reimbursement models, it is critical that the implementation of “patient centric quality metrics” does not get lost in the quagmire of financial and regulatory demands. Quality needs to remain the focus of “quality metrics.”
Of late, safety measure techniques used by the airline industry have been meaningfully translated to health care delivery systems. Pre-operative checklists (modeled after pre-flight checklists) have significantly improved patient safety. Just as regular and consistent communication between the crew and air traffic control helps thwart potential problems and keep the skies friendly, so should regulators, payers, hospitals, patients and practitioners communicate to keep patient safety at the forefront. If not, we should brace for the impact of the unintended consequences of making worse a system that is very much in need of patient centric reform.
Our population is changing and if you’ve seen one patient, you’ve seen one patient. There will never be a one-size-fits-all model to eliminate readmission. Therefore, the impact of demographic characteristics, co-morbidities, socioeconomic parameters, post-discharge environmental factors and regional health care delivery disparities all must be considered in strategically planning meaningful cost efficient care. As our patient population ages the economic impact of this reality is yet to be seen:
- Half of older women 75+ live alone
- Persons reaching age 65 have an average life expectancy of 18.1 additional years
- The 85+ population is projected to increase to 9.6 million in 2030
Improved efficiency and reduction in avoidable readmissions is imperative. Methods to better identify patients at risk for readmission, reduction of hospital complications, improvement in transitional care and overall communication between providers and patients are important ways of improving quality care.
There remains much work to be done in order to transform today’s health care into the efficient quality centric delivery system needed for the future. The ACC has taken the lead in providing tools to help practitioners review and provide a transition of care plan. Specifically, Hospital to Home (H2H) is a national quality improvement initiative developed to help hospitals reduce all-cause readmissions among patients with heart failure or acute myocardial infarction. As health care providers, we must continue striving toward a coordinated multi-disciplinary strategy to effectively address improving quality of care in a fiscally responsible way. If we fail, brace for impact!