Most readmissions after 7 days due to factors beyond hospitals' control, study finds

The majority of hospital readmissions that occur after a patient has been out of the hospital for a week or longer are likely due to factors beyond the hospital's control, according to new research.

Investigators with the University of California-Davis found a “rapid decay” in the quality levels of hospital-linked quality in patients after they had been out of the hospital for seven days. That drop in quality — and increased risk of readmission — could be linked to community or household factors that the hospital can't control, researchers noted.

While the study, which is published in the October issue of Health Affairs, focused only on patients who were discharged to community settings, researchers noted that future study and policy discussions should examine whether the same drop is quality is noted in post-acute care and skilled nursing facilities.

The current 30-day readmission gauge used to issue penalties and encourage hospitals to assume responsibility for post-discharge follow-ups is appropriate for regulatory matters, but the study's findings suggest that a readmission period of seven days or fewer might be more appropriate “if the goal is empowering patients and families to make healthcare choices informed by true differences in hospital performance,” researchers said.