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Healthcare leaders discuss reducing hospital readmissions

According to a recent Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) report, there has been little progress at reducing hospital readmissions for Medicare patients. That report was the focus of a moderated discussion with national healthcare leaders on Feb. 13.

"Hospital readmissions are costing us $30 billion per year," said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, RWJF president and CEO, during the discussion. "This issue is on the radar of healthcare professionals. We are stopping the revolving door, but there's room for improvement."

[See also: Readmissions increase at Pennsylvania hospitals, but mortality declines]

The discussion, part of RWJF's Care About Your Care initiative, was broadcast live on the Internet and moderated by Nancy Snyderman, MD, NBC News chief medical editor. Synderman and the panel used the report to discuss how communities and hospitals are coordinating care for patients leaving the hospital to reduce avoidable readmissions.

RWJF's Care About Your Care initiative is a month-long effort to focus attention on the national problem of avoidable readmissions, spotlight how hospitals and communities are working to improve care and help patients understand their role in the healthcare system.

According to the RWJF report discussed during the webinar, one in eight Medicare patients was readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of being released after surgery in 2010, while patients in the hospital for reasons other than surgery returned at an even higher rate of one in six. Both rates were virtually unchanged from 2008.

The report is based on data that includes readmission rates for states, hospital referral regions and more than 3,000 hospitals from the Dartmouth Atlas Project. The report's analysis showed that the overall lack of improvement in readmissions extends back to 2004, the earliest year the Dartmouth Atlas Project has studied, with the national rate for readmissions following a medical discharge remaining the same in 2010 as it was in 2004 (15.9 percent).

[See also: Readmission costs even higher than suspected]

Snyderman, Lavizzo-Mourey, and three other panelists, Eric Coleman, MD, from the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Mary Naylor, PhD, from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, and Jonathan Blum, MA, from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), mentioned several factors that may help hospitals improve their readmission rates, including the utilization of bundled payments, focusing on care transitions, keeping nurses at the forefront and using technology to open up the lines of communication with patients.

"[Lowering readmissions] takes investments, teams and collaboration, and building leadership," said Naylor.