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Reducing Repeat Hospitalizations Doesn't Harm Patients: Study

Obamacare guidelines may mean better follow-up after discharge, researchers suggest

elderly woman in wheelchair

TUESDAY, July 18, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Under Obamacare, efforts were made to cut the number of times patients needed to head back to the hospital after discharge. But would a reduction in these "readmissions" leave patients more vulnerable at home, raising death rates?

A new study suggests that didn't happen. Reducing hospital readmission rates for heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia didn't increase death rates, the researchers said.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, U.S. hospitals face significant financial penalties if they have too many readmissions. Since enactment of the health care law, also known as Obamacare, readmission rates within 30 days after patient discharge have been significantly reduced.

To find out how that might affect death rates, researchers analyzed data on Medicare patients hospitalized for heart attack, heart failure or pneumonia between 2008 and 2014.

Reductions in readmissions among these patients did not lead to higher death rates, and may even have lowered death rates, according to the study.

One reason might be that hospitals have taken steps to improve in-hospital and after-hospital care. Such measures include better preparing patients and families for discharge, more timely follow-up, and improved communication with outpatient health-care providers, the researchers said.

"Our study validates that the national focus on readmissions improved outcomes without causing unintended harm," said study senior author Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a professor of cardiology at Yale University.

"Thousands and thousands of readmissions are being avoided every year without any evidence of people being harmed," Krumholz said in a university news release. "That is a victory of improving the quality of care."

Study first author Dr. Kumar Dharmarajan said, based on this review, there is no reason to revise policies regarding hospital readmissions.

The study results were published July 18 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on leaving the hospital.

SOURCE: Yale University, news release, July 18, 2017
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