Background: Studies that identify reasons for readmissions are gaining importance in the light of the changing demographics worldwide which has led to greater demand for hospital beds. It is essential to profile the prevalence of avoidable readmissions and understand its drivers so as to develop possible interventions for reducing readmissions that are preventable. The aim of this study is to identify the magnitude of avoidable readmissions, its contributing factors and costs in Hong Kong.
Methods: This was a retrospective analysis of 332,453 inpatient admissions in the Medical specialty in public hospital system in Hong Kong in year 2007. A stratified random sample of patients with unplanned readmission within 30 days after discharge was selected for medical record reviews. Eight physicians reviewed patients' medical records and classified whether a readmission was avoidable according to an assessment checklist. The results were correlated with hospital inpatient data.
Results: It was found that 40.8% of the 603 unplanned readmissions were judged avoidable by the reviewers. Avoidable readmissions were due to: clinician factor (42.3%) including low threshold for admission and premature discharge etc.; patient factor (including medical and health factor) (41.9%) such as relapse or progress of previous complaint, and compliance problems etc., followed by system factor (14.6%) including inadequate discharge planning, inadequate palliative care/terminal care, etc., and social factor (1.2%) such as carer system, lack of support and community services. After adjusting for patients' age, gender, principal diagnosis at previous discharge and readmission hospitals, the risk factors for avoidable readmissions in the total population i.e. all acute care admissions irrespective of whether there was a readmission or not, included patients with a longer length of stay, and with higher number of hospitalizations and attendance in public outpatient clinics and Accident and Emergency departments in the past 12 months. In the analysis of only unplanned readmissions, it was found that the concordance of the principal diagnosis for admission and readmission, and shorter time period between discharge and readmission were associated with avoidable readmissions.
Conclusions: Our study found that almost half of the readmissions could have been prevented. They had been mainly due to clinician and patient factors, in particular, both of which were intimately related to clinical management and patient care. These readmissions could be prevented by a system of ongoing clinical review to examine the clinical practice/decision for discharge, and improving clinical care and enhancing patient knowledge of the early warning signs for relapse. The importance of adequate and appropriate ambulatory care to support the patients in the community was also a key finding to reduce avoidable readmissions. Education on patient self-management should also be enhanced to minimize the patient factors with regard to avoidable readmission. Our findings thus provide important insights into the development of an effective discharge planning system which should place patients and carers as the primacy focus of care by engaging them along with the healthcare professionals in the whole discharge planning process.