In Hospitals, A Link Between Income Level and Readmissions


According to a new report from the National Institutes of Health, whether someone treated for heart failure ends up being readmitted to a hospital is more closely tied to income level and community than to how sick they are or how well a hospital treats patients.

The research, which was presented to the American Heart Association, shows that the percentage of patients who are readmitted because of heart failure varies by region. Some regions had rates as low as 10 percent, and others were as high as 32 percent.

After studying records from over 3,000 hospitals and 1 million patients, researchers found that the availability of doctors or hospital beds, a patient’s income level and their ethnicity were more strongly connected to higher rates of readmission than any other factors–including how sick a patient was or how well the hospital cared for patients.

These findings are a concern for some in the medical community, since hospitals with high readmission rates will face a steep penalty from the government–in the form of reduced Medicare payments–beginning next year.

Some hospital advocates say that the best option, rather than cutting payments, may be to look to the communities around hospitals with high readmission rates, since they are often hospitals which provide care to low-income and other at-risk patients. And because of recent hits to the economy and employment rates, concerns about readmissions and poverty rates aren’t just for hospitals and patients in places like New York, Chicago or Detroit.

What all this may mean for the quality of health care–or readmission rates–in South Carolina is still uncertain. Staff at the Good Neighbor Clinic estimate that there are 30,000 uninsured and poor patients in Beaufort County alone. This, combined with the recent findings linking high poverty levels to higher rates of readmission, should cause some worry for both patients and doctors.


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