Hospital Readmissions After Colon Surgery: Common, Costly, Preventable

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BALTIMORE—Nearly one-quarter of privately insured colon surgery patients are readmitted to the hospital within three months of discharge at a cost of roughly $9,000 per readmission, according to Johns Hopkins researchers, who’ve identified a major area for quality improvement and cost reduction in healthcare.

The most common reason for returning to the hospital: complications from surgical-site infections, which are likely preventable, they say.

Readmission rates, an increasingly popular yardstick by which hospitals are judged and penalized by insurers, are a major financial burden on the health care system. Nationwide, these findings account for $300 million in readmission costs annually for colorectal surgery alone.

“Readmissions after surgery are common and they burden the health care system with exorbitant costs,” said Martin A. Makary, MD, MPH, an associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the senior author of a report on the new study published in the December issue of the journal Diseases of the Colon & Rectum. “While readmissions are sometimes unavoidable, many times they result from poor coordination of medical care. Everyone knows you can’t get readmissions down to zero but, at 23 percent, there’s a huge amount of room for improvement. There is no reason we can’t cut that rate in half.”

Said study leader Elizabeth Wick, MD, an assistant professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins: “Hospital readmissions are costly to the patient, costly to the system, delay recovery and victimize some patients multiple times.”

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