Heart patients are less likely to return to a hospital after a skilled nursing discharge if they are prescribed home care, a new study has found.

The results were surprising, given that patients who typically get home care have more functional difficulties and shorter SNF stays, according to lead author Himali Weerahandi, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine and  population health at the NYU School of Medicine.

Her research revealed that the home care patients had lower odds of returning to the hospital within 30 days.

“It’s surprising that only about 20% of people received home healthcare after discharge from skilled nursing facilities,” Weerahandi said. “Recovery from a hospitalization can sometimes take longer than expected and the support provided by the skilled nursing facility and then home healthcare may be what vulnerable patients need to get better.”

The researchers analyzed records of more than 67,000 Medicare beneficiaries who had been hospitalized for heart failure, were released to a skilled nursing facility and then were sent home. 

It remains unclear why so few patients received home health orders. The researchers cautiously speculated that SNFs in integrated health systems, those with financial partnerships with local agencies, or those in densely served urban settings may be more likely to recommend home services.