Background: Many experts believe that hospitals with more frequent readmissions provide lower-quality care, but little is known about how the preventability of readmissions might change over the postdischarge time frame.
Objective: To determine whether readmissions within 7 days of discharge differ from those between 8 and 30 days after discharge with respect to preventability.
Design: Prospective cohort study.
Setting: 10 academic medical centers in the United States.
Patients: 822 adults readmitted to a general medicine service.
Measurements: For each readmission, 2 site-specific physician adjudicators used a structured survey instrument to determine whether it was preventable and measured other characteristics.
Results: Overall, 36.2% of early readmissions versus 23.0% of late readmissions were preventable (median risk difference, 13.0 percentage points [interquartile range, 5.5 to 26.4 percentage points]). Hospitals were identified as better locations for preventing early readmissions (47.2% vs. 25.5%; median risk difference, 22.8 percentage points [interquartile range, 17.9 to 31.8 percentage points]), whereas outpatient clinics (15.2% vs. 6.6%; median risk difference, 10.0 percentage points [interquartile range, 4.6 to 12.2 percentage points]) and home (19.4% vs. 14.0%; median risk difference, 5.6 percentage points [interquartile range, -6.1 to 17.1 percentage points]) were better for preventing late readmissions.
Limitation: Physician adjudicators were not blinded to readmission timing, community hospitals were not included in the study, and readmissions to nonstudy hospitals were not included in the results.
Conclusion: Early readmissions were more likely to be preventable and amenable to hospital-based interventions. Late readmissions were less likely to be preventable and were more amenable to ambulatory and home-based interventions.
Primary funding source: Association of American Medical Colleges.