For instance, if a patient was discharged after being admitted for heart failure and then returned to a hospital within 30 days because of a broken leg, that would be considered a readmission. "I've seen a couple of stories that have said a fifth of heart failure patients come back to a hospital—implying that they've come for their heart failure. That's not an accurate interpretation of this data," Chambers said.
Ongoing research, though, has indicated that patients may return to a hospital within several days when problems may arise with their discharge—perhaps they didn't understand their discharge directions or questions arose over prescriptions. A number of hospital-based programs around the country have found that using their own data and improving communications during discharge can make a difference in lowering readmissions.
"It's the care coordination aspect of it," Chambers said. "In my view, this is sort of the gross measure of an area that needs to be addressed. There's clearly a lot of public interest in it, and the tools that we have to address it right now are sort of sledgehammer kind of tools."
As recent legislation on Capitol Hill has shown, the issue of readmission within 30 days is not going to go away. It's become a well-known target within current healthcare reform legislation.
But it is going to take some time and work for all hospitals to address. While the data may not be truly reflective of why readmissions are taking place, they may serve as a wake-up for hospitals—and their leaders—to ask what is happening within its walls, and if there indeed is more room for improvement.