Following a hospitalization, some 20 percent of seniors return to the emergency room within one month. Now, efforts to lower that number are being encouraged by the new health reform act, the Orlando Sentinel is reporting.

A pilot program at two Miami hospitals demonstrates that the incidence of hospital re-admittance can be reduced if patients receive nurse visits and free meals in their homes. The nurses “coach” patients to stick to their prescriptions and help them obtain refills, if necessary.

The two hospitals enrolled 118 seniors in the program. Each received a month’s worth of healthy, nutritious meals and a nurse visit two days after discharge, and then seven, 14 and 30 days after discharge, to check that they were taking medicines as prescribed and scheduling doctor’s appointments.

The percentage of patients who were readmitted to the hospital within one month dropped from 23.3 to 2.7. Hot meals alone resulted in an improvement, with only 13.6 percent of such patients readmitted within the first month. Having a hot meal delivered can make a huge difference to a senior who cannot drive and lives alone or with a disabled spouse.

According to Scott Clark, administrator of transition services for Orlando Health, “Oftentimes, patients end up coming back because they’re not following up on treatment.” The hospitals are offering the programs free to patients as they are under pressure to prevent senior patients from being readmitted. Beginning in October 2012, Medicare will reduce reimbursements to hospitals with high readmission rates.