Readmission penalties trigger hospital improvements

After facing an $18,379 fine for excessive heart attack readmissions, Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas is using electronic medical records to identify and better manage high-risk heart failure patients, The Dallas Morning News reported.

Similarly, Methodist Dallas Medical Center, which received fines for excessive pneumonia and heart failure readmissions, is having community-based nurses help newly discharged patients access outpatient resources.

Hospitals are ramping up efforts to improve care and keep patients from bouncing back to their facilities, thanks in part to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services levying penalties for higher-than-average readmission rates for heart failure, heart attack, or pneumonia.

Dallas' Baylor Health Care System received several penalties from CMS--two of its hospitals had too many heart attack patients readmit while another saw too many heart failure patients come back, The Dallas Morning News noted. The system is implementing transitional care improvements, including nurse-led discharge processes and follow-up phone calls, to lower readmission rates.

Such actions back up March testimony from Jonathan Blum, director of the Center for Medicare and CMS acting deputy director, who said the threat of reduced Medicare reimbursements for hospitals with high rates of readmissions under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) already has produced results.

Blum is among several federal health officials who credit the ACA penalties with producing a noticeable drop in readmission rates. "We're hopeful that the Affordable Care Act may already be making a difference in the quality of health care," Niall Brennan, director of the data analysis office at CMS, told The Dallas Morning News.

Their optimism may be warranted: A new analysis from CMS shows hospitals saw about 70,000 fewer all-cause, 30-day readmissions for Medicare patients last year.

For more:
- read the Dallas Morning News article