Boomerangs are a fun toy; no matter how far you throw them, they always come back. When it comes to hospitals, though, coming back, again and again, is anything but fun.
But every year, millions of Americans make the return trip to the hospital soon after leaving. As many as 20 percent of patients find themselves back again within one month of being discharged.
A sizeable number of these readmissions could be prevented with proper planning — about 800,000 each year, according to health experts. As you leave the hospital, you can take steps to avoid becoming a health care boomerang.
Not all rehospitalizations are bad. In some cases, it may actually be a part of your treatment plan. For instance, you may need to go home to recover from an infection before coming back for surgery.
Unplanned return visits to the hospital, however, could delay your recovery. Your risk of developing a new health problem increases. And so does the cost to the nation’s health care system. Bills for these readmissions add up to about $25 billion each year.
Often, patients return to the hospital because they didn’t take their medicine properly or didn’t know what to do when they started feeling worse. In some cases, their doctors didn’t clearly explain how they should take care of themselves at home. Or patients and their caregivers—excited to go home—may have tuned out and missed important information.
Make your transition back home as easy and safe as possible. Take these steps to reduce your chances of winding up back in the hospital:
• List your medications. Include the dosages, side effects, and how and when to take them. Make special note of medications that were discontinued, added, or changed.
• Have a plan. Understand what steps you should take—such as exercising or eating properly—to get better. Also ask if you should avoid certain activities, such as bathing or climbing stairs.
• Know who to call. Write down names and phone numbers of people to call if your symptoms change or get worse.
• Come back on your own terms. Schedule follow-ups with your primary care physician and specialist to make sure you stay on track to a healthy recovery.
Ask as many questions as you need to until you understand what the doctor, nurse, or social worker tells you. Write things down so you can refer to them later. A friend or family member can help you remember important information, especially if he or she will help take care of you.
Discuss your medications with your Rite Aid pharmacist and take advantage of the additional services like automated courtesy refills and prescription advisor reports that can help you stay on track with your medications.
“Effects of an Enhanced Discharge Planning Intervention for Hospitalized Older Adults: A Randomized Trial.” S. J. Altfeld et al. The Gerontologist. vol. 53, no. 3, pp. 430-40, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22961467.
Helping You Avoid Return Trips to the Hospital. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, healthcare411.ahrq.gov/column.aspx?id=985.
How to Avoid the Round-Trip Visit to the Hospital. Agency for Healthcare Research and Qualit, healthcare411.ahrq.gov/column.aspx?id=648.
Preventing Hospital Readmissions: A $25 Billion Opportunity. National Quality Forum, www.qualityforum.org/Publications/2010/11/Preventing_Hospital_Readmissions_CAB.aspx.
“Residents Examine Factors Associated With 30-Day, Same-Cause Hospital Readmissions on an Internal Medicine Service.” J. Moran et al. American Journal of Medical Quality, online ahead of print, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23550215.
The Revolving Door: A Report on U.S. Hospital Readmissions. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, www.rwjf.org/content/dam/farm/reports/reports/2013/rwjf404178.
Risk of death, hospital readmission prolonged after heart attack, heart failure. American Heart Association, newsroom.heart.org/news/risk-of-death-hospital-readmission-prolonged-after-heart-attack-heart-failure.
Taking Care of Myself: A Guide for When I Leave the Hospital. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, www.ahrq.gov/patients-consumers/diagnosis-treatment/hospitals-clinics/goinghome/index.html.
Your Discharge Planning Checklist. Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, www.medicare.gov/pubs/pdf/11376.pdf.