Study: Shorter inpatient rehab stays, higher post-hospital mortality rates

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The average length of stays for inpatient rehabilitation patients has declined but post-discharge mortality rates have risen, reported a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The average number of days that patients stayed in hospital rehabilitation facilities dropped from 20 days in 1994 to 12 days in 2001, the study found. However, patient death rates three to six months after discharge increased from less than 1% to 4.7% over the same period.

Most of the 148,807 patients whose data were examined by the researchers had suffered from strokes, hip fractures, knee replacement surgery and other disabling conditions. The study included both freestanding rehabilitation facilities and those within larger hospitals. The average age of the patients was 68.

The government estimates that more than 600,000 patients each year receive inpatient rehabilitation, where most treatment is covered by Medicare.

The researchers conducting the study suggest that cost-containment pressures might be the reason for the shortened stays and say they will continue to examine the issue.