Post-discharge acute care and outcomes following readmission reduction initiatives: national retrospective cohort study of Medicare beneficiaries in the United States

OBJECTIVES To determine whether patients discharged after hospital admissions for conditions covered by national readmission programs who received care in emergency departments or observation units but were not readmitted within 30 days had an increased risk of death and to evaluate temporal trends in post-discharge acute care utilization in inpatient units, emergency departments, and observation units for these patients.
DESIGN Retrospective cohort study.
SETTING Medicare claims data for 2008-16 in the United States.
PARTICIPANTS Patients aged 65 or older admitted to hospital with heart failure, acute myocardial infarction, or pneumonia-conditions included in the US Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program.
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES Post-discharge 30 day mortality according to patients' 30 day acute care utilization; acute care utilization in inpatient and observation units and the emergency department during the 30 day and 31-90 day post-discharge period.
RESULTS 3 772 924 hospital admissions for heart failure, 1 570 113 for acute myocardial infarction, and 3 131 162 for pneumonia occurred. The overall post-discharge 30 day mortality was 8.7% for heart failure, 7.3% for acute myocardial infarction, and 8.4% for pneumonia. Risk adjusted mortality increased annually by 0.05% (95% confidence interval 0.02% to 0.08%) for heart failure, decreased by 0.06% (-0.09% to -0.04%) for acute myocardial infarction, and did not significantly change for pneumonia. Specifically, mortality increased for patients with heart failure who did not utilize any post-discharge acute care, increasing at a rate of 0.08% (0.05% to 0.12%) per year, exceeding the overall absolute annual increase in post-discharge mortality in heart failure, without an increase in mortality in observation units or the emergency department. Concurrent with a reduction in 30 day readmission rates, stays for observation and visits to the emergency department increased across all three conditions during and beyond the 30 day post-discharge period. Overall 30 day post-acute care utilization did not change significantly.
CONCLUSIONS The only condition with increasing mortality through the study period was heart failure; the increase preceded the policy and was not present among patients who received emergency department or observation unit care without admission to hospital. During this period, the overall acute care utilization in the 30 days after discharge significantly decreased for heart failure and pneumonia, but not for acute myocardial infarction.

as reported in: BMJ. 2020 Jan 15; 368 l6831