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Reducing hospital readmission rates is a national priority and a major focus of healthcare reform. Nearly one in five Medicare patients are readmitted within 30 days of discharge at a cost estimated at more than $15 billion a year. The Affordable Care Act created new incentives to reduce readmissions, and in 2012 the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services began publicly reporting hospitals’ readmission rates. Hospitals with high readmission rates can lose up to three percent of their Medicare reimbursement by 2015. Nearly two-thirds of hospitals receiving Medicare payments are expected to pay penalties totaling about $300 million this year because too many of their patients were readmitted within 30 days after they were sent home.
A four-month study at a hospital in Springfield, MO shows that follow-up phone calls to patients is an effective way to reduce hospital readmittances. Patients who received five calls over a 30-day period were less likely to be readmitted within 30 days after they were discharged. Hospital officials were so pleased with the findings they greatly increased the study’s scope. Today, all medical surgery patients discharged from Cox South and two other Cox hospitals—400 to 450 patients—are receiving follow-up calls.