New information available on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service Hospital Compare Web site on hospital readmission and mortality rates for specific hospitals was disclosed publicly for the first time this week.
Limited information on hospital mortality rates was released by the agency two years ago, which disclosed whether a hospital's performance was better or worse or fell within the national average.
The performance measures are being disclosing by the federal agency partly to help patients be better consumers and partly to prod hospitals to work harder to reduce costly readmissions. Avoiding preventable readmissions to hospitals has become a priority in the effort to improve quality and lower costs.
The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, an independent agency that advises Congress, has estimated that the program spends $12 billion a year on potentially preventable readmissions to hospitals.
Janet Corrigan, the president and chief executive of the National Quality Forum, which reviews and endorses performance measures for health care quality said, "They clearly can get a lot better."
Readmission rates are said to be indicators of quality of care initially provided by a hospital and how well a hospital coordinates care with doctors, home health care agencies and others.
CMS said on average, one in five Medicare beneficiaries who are discharged from a hospital today will re-enter the hospital within a month. Among patients admitted to a hospital for heart attack treatment, 19.9 % of them will return to the hospital within 30 days, 24.5 % of patients admitted for heart failure will return to the hospital within 30 days, and 18.2 % of patients admitted for pneumonia will return to the hospital within 30 days.
Kathleen Sebelius, HHS Secretary said, "When we reduce readmissions, we improve the quality of care patients receive and cut health care costs."
Looking at the readmission rates "will help consumers identify those providers in the community who are furnishing high-value health care with the best results" said Charlene Frizzera, CMS acting administrator.
In La Crosse, where Medicare spends less on average than other parts of the state, Gundersen Lutheran Health System doctors review every readmission within seven days and 30 days. "That way we can focus our improvement efforts," said Mary Frances Barthel, a hospitalist, who specializes in caring for hospitalized patients. "It's in everybody's best interest to have zero preventable readmissions," Barthel said. "I don't know if we will ever get there."
"Outcome measures really are the ultimate indication of whether the health care system is performing well," said Corrigan.