For example, in an Aug. 26 letter to employees and physicians, Barnes Jewish President Rich Liekweg responded to a prominent article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He pledged to improve care transitions, and the hospital's public image. He blamed some of the reason for such high readmission scores on "socio-economic factors, such as limited access to primary care, not having a consistent medical home to help manage care, lack of transportation, [poor] literacy, and poverty."
However, Liekweg said in the letter, the hospital will try to do more to reduce avoidable readmissions within six months. It will open a post-discharge clinic for those at high risk for readmission; "to ensure they see a primary care physician within seven days at no cost to the patient," he said. And it will launch a program that will do the same for heart failure patients and is piloting a program to provide a low-cost, seven-day medication "starter pack" for low-income patients.
"Through these efforts, I believe we are on the right track to prevent what could be avoidable readmissions and bring our rates into line with national norms starting later this year, and certainly in 2012," Liekweg wrote.
I wondered if what Liekweg and others are doing will be enough. So I asked Stephen Jencks, MD, who some have dubbed the “father of readmission research" for his thoughts. Jencks, former director of the Quality Improvement Organization in the Office of Clinical Standards and Quality and CMS' chief scientist, is the author of a pivotal paper in the April 2009 New England Journal of Medicine that woke everyone up about the severity of the nation's hospital readmission problem.