A new approach to senior care following a hospitalization may cut the rate at which patients are readmitted, a new study finds.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society by researchers at the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, examined a three-pronged approach to combating the increase in rehospitalizations noted in recent years. The cost of readmitting seniors during the first month following their discharge from a skilled nursing facility runs an estimated $17 billion annually.

The approach followed by HRC combined standardized admission templates, palliative care evaluations and root-cause investigations. The study examined the effects of intervention and found that the rate of rehospitalization dropped from 16.5 to 13.3 percent, while the rate at which patients were discharged to their homes increased to 73 percent from 68.6, according to HRC.

“The change in discharge disposition observed between the two periods, we believe, reflects an improvement in patient outcomes,” said lead author Randi E. Berkowitz, HRC geriatrician and lead author of the study. Berkowitz asserts that improved care protocols at the nursing facility can explain the lower acute transfer rate.

The 20 percent of Medicare beneficiaries who are rehospitalized within the first 30 days not only results in a staggering cost to the Medicare program but also has a negative effect on patient care, often leading to a decline in health, according to HRC. Repeated hospitalizations can impact a senior’s independence, encouraging entry into a long-term care facility. By following the studied approach, however, cases in which a patient was discharged to long-term care facility fell from 13.7 to 11.5 percent.

The study couldn’t come at a better time; beginning in October of 2012, the new health care law will prohibit Medicare from reimbursing hospitals for preventable readmissions.

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