Hospitals face readmissions head on with help from health IT [Special Report]

By Katie Dvorak

From the minute a patient is admitted to the hospital and for months after he or she leaves, providers are committed to ensuring a return visit doesn't happen--and health IT is aiding in that effort.

High readmissions continue to be a thorn in the side of the healthcare industry, with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announcing earlier this month that most hospitals will face some sort of Medicare penalty for excessive 30-day readmissions.

As penalties continue to come down and costs continue to rise, providers are using all the tools at their disposal to combat the problem, with the goal of keeping patients healthy the most important of all.

At Cleveland Clinic, executives not only want to prevent readmissions, they want to stop preventable admissions as well, Nirav Vakharia, M.D., associate chief quality officer at the health system's Quality and Patient Safety Institute, told FierceHealthIT in an interview.

Technology is helping the clinic in this effort through initiatives such as a discharge readiness tool, a big data approach to identify patients at high risk for admissions and an effort engage them in their own care through patient portals, added Cynthia Deyling, Cleveland Clinic's chief quality officer.

In addition, preventing readmissions isn't just about what happens in the hospital setting, Praveen Chopra, executive vice president and chief information officer at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, told FierceHealthIT.

"I think we are looking at [readmissions] differently. Instead of looking at a siloed functionality, we need to look at the lifecycle of a patient," he said.

The trend of using health IT to stop readmissions will only increase, added University of Virginia Health System CIO Rick Skinner. It's only through technology and communication with patients that readmissions can be addressed and prevented, and penalties have been and will continue to drive hospitals to develop new programs and seek new innovations, he said.

However, technology isn't the only key to solving readmissions, and there are challenges to using new tools, the executives all noted.

Read on to find out more about how these health systems' view technology's role in preventing readmissions, what specific programs they have under way to battle the problem and the challenges they face.

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