Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Reducing Hospital Readmissions: A Role for Hospice and Palliative Medicine Practitioners?

Hospices and their palliative medicine specialists have proven, several studies have shown, to be effective at reducing use of hospitals for their patients. In fact, families cite avoiding transitions among multiple settings as one of the benefits of hospice. In a previous post, we've examined the role of palliative medicine physicians in reducing readmissions.
One of the first financial impacts to hospitals resulting from PPACA legislation is a reduction in reimbursement for excessive readmission of Medicare inpatients. Starting with discharges in October 2011, the impact of the payment penalties may be significant.

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) has estimated that nearly one out of every five Medicare patients admitted to the hospital is readmitted within 30 days and unplanned readmissions are estimated to cost Medicare approximately $17.4 billion annually. Readmissions have become a widely accepted measure of hospital effectiveness. Although only one of many performance metrics, low readmission rates do correlate with overall clinical excellence.

As part of the CMS value-based purchasing program, 30-day readmission rates are a performance measure already closely watched in the industry. Now PPACA legislation allows CMS to withhold a portion of all inpatient Medicare payments due to excessive readmissions, starting with up to 1 percent in federal fiscal year 2013, and rising to 3 percent in 2015 and beyond.

Hospitals will likely look to post-acute care networks to assist in managing the care of at-risk (for rehospitalization) patients. Should we consider deployment of palliative care specialists (physicians and nurse practitioners) by these networks to visit patients in their homes (especially but not only when a referral has not been made to home health)? If not palliative care practitioners, then who?

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