Objective: To determine whether the quality of care during a hospital stay is associated with unplanned readmission within 14 days.
Design: Case-control study.
Setting: 12 Veterans Affairs hospitals.
Patients: Men discharged after a hospitalization for diabetes (n = 593), chronic obstructive lung disease (n = 1172), or heart failure (n = 748). The ratio of controls (men without an unplanned readmission within 14 days to any Veterans Affairs hospital) to cases (men with such a readmission) was 3:1.
Main outcome measures: Unplanned readmission to any of the 159 Veterans Affairs hospitals within 14 days of discharge. Quality of care during the index stay was assessed by chart review using disease-specific explicit criteria for the process of inpatient care, which were developed by panels composed of expert physicians. Adherence scores (the percentage of applicable criteria that were met) were calculated for the admission workup, evaluation and treatment, and readiness for discharge.
Results: After adjustment was made for demographic characteristics, severity of illness, and need for care, adherence scores correlated with early unplanned readmission (P < 0.05). For patients with diabetes and heart failure, decreased readiness-for-discharge adherence scores correlated with increased risk for readmission (P = 0.001 and P = 0.016, respectively). In patients with obstructive lung disease, decreased admission-workup scores correlated with increased risk for readmission (P = 0.013). One of 7 readmissions in patients with diabetes, 1 of 5 readmissions in patients with heart failure, and 1 of 12 readmissions in patients with obstructive lung disease were attributable to substandard care.
Conclusions: Lower quality of inpatient care increases the risk for unplanned early readmission in patients with heart failure, diabetes, or obstructive lung disease. Under certain circumstances, readmission is associated with remediable deficiencies in the process of inpatient care.