AHRQ to study how primary care visits can reduce hospital readmissions

A new project will look at how primary care practices can help reduce hospital readmisisons.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is looking at how it can re-engineer primary care visits to help solve an expensive healthcare problem: hospital readmissions.

The federal agency published a notice in the Federal Register seeking approval of the 30-month project to determine how to improve primary care visits to prevent avoidable readmissions of patients.

So far, most efforts to cut hospital readmissions—which cost the U.S. an estimated $41.3 billion each year—have focused on enhancing practices within the hospital setting, the AHRQ said in the notice. While improvement efforts have looked at the patient discharge process and handoffs to providers or other care settings, they have not focused explicitly on enhancing primary care to reduce readmissions.

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With the help of public health consultants, the AHRQ hopes to pinpoint specific components of primary care that could be improved to reduce readmissions, which affected 3.3 million adults in 2011. The agency hopes to establish evidence-based guidance for primary care practices to reduce readmissions and improve patient safety. The research project’s goal is to redesign primary care patient visits to come up with an effective intervention that can be tested in primary care clinics.

Researchers will look at what takes place at nine primary care sites. The research will include interviews with patients to capture their perspectives on potential breakdowns in the transition from hospital care to primary care settings.

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Readmissions are costly for U.S. hospitals, and more than half were hit with Medicare penalties for excessive 30-day readmission rates in 2016. However, those federal penalties do lead to lower readmission rates, according to one study.