Discharge planning: Include caregivers in process to reduce readmissions among elderly patients

Nurse with patient
Hospitals that involved family members or unpaid caregivers into the discharge planning process had a 25% reduction in the risk of elderly patients being readmitted within 90 days.

A new study shows the value of integrating caregivers into the discharge process for elderly patients: far fewer readmissions.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Health Policy Institute found hospitals that involved family members or unpaid caregivers in the discharge planning process had a 25% reduction in risk of elderly patients being readmitted to the hospitals within 90 days and a 24% reduction in risk of being readmitted within 180 days.

The study was published Monday in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. It is the first to quantify the post-discharge impact of caregiver integration into discharge planning on healthcare costs and resource utilization.

The transition from hospital to home is a critical time, especially for the elderly. Often, there are gaps in adequate preparation for families on how to care for patients after discharge.

Researchers systematically reviewed 10,715 scientific publications related to patient-discharge planning and older adults. The analysis focused on 15 publications that described randomized control studies of 4,361 patients that researchers were able to use to determine the influence of discharge planning on hospital readmissions. The patients had an average age of 70 years. The majority of the caregivers were a spouse or partner. Thirty-five percent were adult children.

Although it may require hospitals to identify and educate a patient’s family members, researchers say it’s worth the time and resources because the end result is improved patient outcomes and reduced readmissions.

“Hospital discharge planning is critical for helping family members understand what they need to do to help keep their patient or loved one in the community,” Juleen Rodakowski, the lead author of the analysis and an assistant professor in Pitt's Department of Occupational Therapy, told TribLive.

However, she said more research is needed to determine what kind of post-discharge care is most effective and what types of medical conditions benefit most from post-discharge care.