Data shows link between hospital quality and readmission rates

New research harnessed CMS data to show the connection between high-quality care and lower readmission rates. 

Researchers examined a hospitalwide readmissions cohort of more than 2.7 million Medicare patients over age 65. The study included more than 2.7 million patients treated at more than 4,700 hospitals between 2014 and 2015.

They found that hospitals in the highest performance quartile for quality had significantly lower 30-day readmission rates than those in the lowest quartile.

The lowest performers had a readmission rate of about 25%, while the highest performers had a readmission rate of about 23%, according to data published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"An absolute difference of 2 percentage points may seem to be small relative to the overall readmission risk, but it indicates that for every 50 patients who are admitted to a hospital in the lowest-performing quartile rather than in the highest-performing quartile, there is one additional readmission," the researchers said.

The study did not find statistically significant differences in other quartile comparisons and the median readmission rate was about 15%.

RELATED: Study finds racial disparities in readmission rates for Medicare patients

The researchers excluded patient-related factors from the analysis, and those factors do not impact how the study ranks hospital performance.

Recent studies have also suggested that care quality improvements can cut down readmission rates, but those initiatives may not save hospitals money. In that study, readmission rates for different patient cohorts did go down, but the cost savings results fluctuated so widely that it was inconclusive as to whether or not the improvements cut costs.

In 2016, more than half of U.S. hospitals were penalized by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for their readmission rates. Research suggests financial penalties do push hospitals to reduce readmissions, but other studies have called into question the effectiveness of such punishments on patient outcomes.

The penalties are controversial, and major professional organizations like the American Hospital Association have questioned the methods used to assess the data.