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December 12, 2011

To Avoid Readmissions, Hospitals Trying Post-Discharge Clinics

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In recent years, hospitals have been under increasing pressure to keep their readmission rates low. The next bump in the road comes in October 2012, when Medicare will begin cutting back on reimbursement for facilities whose readmit rates are too high.

Hospitals are already hard at work at preventing readmissions due to preventable medical errors, which may not be reimbursed at all by Medicare at all. But it seems like they’re still far behind in the care coordination department.

In fact, research suggests that they’re facing an uphill battle, in part because patients often don’t get the kind of follow-up care they need.

In theory, fragile patients  should move smoothly from inpatient care to their PCP, ideally a medical home equipped to coordinate whatever follow-up care needs they have. Few primary care practices are up to speed yet, however.  In fact, some aren’t even sure when their patients are discharged.

How bad is the problem? According to one study quoted in The Hospitalist, only 42 percent of hospitalized Medicare patients had any contact with a primary care physician within 14 days of being discharged.

One solution to this problem might be a “post-discharge” or transitional care clinic offering primary care on or near a hospital’s campus, the article notes. This makes sense. After all, it’s more likely a patient will follow through and get follow-up care if it’s convenient to do so.

The idea behind these clinics isn’t to replace the patient’s existing PCP; instead, the clinic’s hospitalists, advance-practice nurses or PCPs are there to make sure patients absorbed their post-discharge instructions and are compliant with the meds prescribed during their stay.

Some hospitals have invested significant resources in building out transitional clinics, including Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Seattle-based Harborview Medical Center and Tallahassee (Fla.) Memorial Hospital, which partnered with a local health plan to kick off the effort.

That being said, the idea is a new one and few other hospitals have taken the plunge as of yet. It will be interesting to see whether this approach actually works, and particularly, whether one model of transitional care stands out.

P.S.  I’d particularly like to know whether hospitals can accomplish some of these objectives by monitoring patients remotely after they’re discharged. After attending last week’s mHealth show, I’m betting remote monitoring would be cheaper than setting up a new clinic. Can’t wait to see whether hospitals try that route!

 

 

 

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November 14, 2011

Hospitals play unfair games with Medicare observation status

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Most hospital visitors don’t care a whole lot whether they’re classed as inpatients or outpatients  — unless it affects the size of their bill. But lately, many patients are getting hit with unexpected fees after spending days in a hospital, thanks to tricks hospitals are playing in an effort to lower their readmission rate numbers, a newly-filed lawsuit contends.

These days, hospitals are under intense pressure to lower readmission rates, as such rates figure into their ratings on various types of quality scales.  In some cases, of course, they have no direct control of this number, as readmissions often have far more to do with the care they receive from community physicians and their willingness to comply with discharge instructions.

But ever-resourceful administrators have found a loophole that allows them to rejigger the admissions numbers. Under Medicare rules, they’re allowed to keep patients on “observation status,” deliver care and let patients go without ever classing them as inpatients. All of which might be well and good, except that if patients are in a hospital for days, they rack up a big bill — one they’re expected to pay far more of if the visit is billed as outpatient care under Medicare Part B.

Even more delightful for these patients, the fact that they haven’t logged three or more “real” inpatient days means that Medicare won’t pay for follow-up in a skilled nursing facility after discharge. So seniors either do without, or end up having the state pay through Medicaid.

Nice way to look out for patients, guys. Being old and sick and scared isn’t bad enough; now seniors have to wonder if their hospital costs are paid for even with Medicare coverage in place.

With this kind of mumblety-peg becoming fairly common, a consumer group called Center for Medicare Advocacy has filed a lawsuit to call a halt to the fun. The group is asking CMS to simply end observation status as a billable category.

While I sympathize with hospitals to some degree, who are also hoping to dodge scrutiny from the RECs by avoiding inpatient claim reviews, setting up seniors for high costs by playing unfair games is bad for you, the industry and the patient. Cut it out.

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