Bioethics News

Pushing Hospitals To Reduce Readmissions Hasn’t Increased Deaths

July 18, 2017

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Historically, U.S. hospitals have had little incentive to keep patients healthy following discharge. Hospital discharge indicated success, and we paid little mind to what happened on the other side. Meanwhile, 1 in 5 patients returned to the hospital within 30 days of discharge, and the health system largely felt it had no responsibility for that. Hospitals were paid each time a patient was readmitted.

Over time, it became clear that the risk for readmission could be reduced with improved quality of care. For this to happen, hospitals would have to institute programs that would take into account the challenges of managing the recovery period. They would also have to be sure people were strong enough to leave the hospital – and had the support they needed after discharge. And mistakes that were all too common, like sending people home with the wrong medication list, would need to be addressed.

The Affordable Care Act sought to make all of that happen by changing hospital incentives. Hospitals with higher than average readmission rates would be penalized financially. These penalties began in 2012 and have increased over time.

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Image: By Royak77 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.