EHRs contribution to the reduction of readmission rates

Electronic health records (EHRs) have many benefits for physicians, including the ability for physicians to make referrals, view medical histories and order/view lab results. EHRs have also been praised for providing easy access to patient data, financial and legal information and their overall success in helping physicians improve quality of care. One way in which EHRs help improve quality of care is by lowering readmission rates.

Preventable hospital readmissions cost the U.S. healthcare system approximately $16 billion annually. Hospital readmission is defined as a patient being admitted to a hospital within 30 days of being discharged. As reported in Healthcare Finance News, a recent study revealed that approximately one out of every 12 adults released from the hospital is readmitted within 30 days.

By expanding the definition to include patients readmitted within the same year, the yearly cost of readmissions increases to nearly $100 billion. It’s important to note that patients are not always readmitted for the same condition. In fact, about one-quarter are readmitted for different causes.

EHRs can be used to reduce both readmission rates for the original condition as well as new conditions in several ways. Some of these include:

• Screening patients using Clinical Decision Alerts to identify those at a high risk of needing hospital care
• Creating a step-by-step discharge plan aimed at improving patient education and communication
• Sending patient discharge summaries directly to primary care physicians
• Providing patient education at every visit based on the patient’s condition

To illustrate this point, 29 hospitals in Philadelphia participated in an 18-month study conducted by the Healthcare Improvement Foundation in 2011 to find ways to reduce the number of hospital readmissions through use of health IT tools. The 18 facilities that submitted readmission data for patients during the project saw a seven percent drop in their readmission rates, meaning that a total of 400 patients weren’t re-hospitalized – resulting in a savings of $4 million.

This study showed that using EHRs improves timeliness and distribution of discharge information. During the study, the main role in reducing costly hospital readmissions stemmed from enhanced communication across provider settings (i.e., between the hospital and the primary care physician, nursing home or other provider).

With the growing use of EHRs, we know that hospitals and physicians will continue to contribute to reducing readmissions, thereby improving patient care and helping to decrease the overall cost of healthcare in the U.S.

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