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What Works in Readmissions Reduction: How Hospitals Improve Performance

Brewster, Amanda L. PhD; Cherlin, Emily J. PhD; Ndumele, Chima D. PhD; Collins, Diane MSN; Burgess, James F. Jr., PhD; Charns, Martin P. DBA; Bradley, Elizabeth H. PhD; Curry, Leslie A. PhD

doi: 10.1097/MLR.0000000000000530
Original Articles

Background: Hospitals across the United States are pursuing strategies to reduce avoidable readmissions but the evidence on how best to accomplish this goal is mixed, with no specific clinical practice shown to reduce readmissions consistently. Changes to hospital organizational practices, a key component of context, also may be critical to improving performance on readmissions, but this has not been studied.

Objective: The aim of this study was to understand how high-performing hospitals improved risk-stratified readmission rates, and whether their changes to clinical practices and organizational practices differed from low-performing hospitals.

Design: This was a qualitative study of 10 hospitals in which readmission rates had decreased (n=7) or increased (n=3).

Participants: A total of 82 hospital staff drawn from hospitals that had participated in the State Action on Avoidable Readmissions quality improvement initiative.

Results: High-performing hospitals were distinguished by several organizational practices that facilitated readmissions reduction, that is, collective habits of action or interpretation shared by organization members. First, high-performing hospitals reported focused efforts to improve collaboration across hospital departments. Second, they helped postacute providers improve care by sharing the hospital’s clinical and quality improvement expertise and data. Third, high performers enthusiastically engaged in trial and error learning to reduce readmissions. Fourth, they emphasized that readmissions represented bad outcomes for patients, de-emphasizing the role of financial penalties. Both high-performing and low-performing hospitals had implemented most clinical practice changes commonly recommended to reduce readmissions.

Conclusions: Our findings highlight several organizational practices that hospitals may be able to use to enhance the effectiveness of their readmissions reduction efforts.

Supplemental Digital Content is available in the text.

*Department of Health Policy and Management, Yale School of Public Health

Yale-New Haven Hospital, New Haven, CT

Center for Healthcare Organization and Implementation Research, VA Boston Healthcare System

§Department of Health Law, Policy, and Management, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA

Supported by The Commonwealth Fund, One East 75th Street, New York, NY 10021.

L.A.C. and E.H.B. report that they are recipients of a research grant from The Medicines Company through the Yale University to fund a different study. The remaining authors declare no conflict of interest.

Reprints: Amanda L. Brewster, PhD, Department of Health Policy and Management, Yale School of Public Health, P.O. Box 208364, New Haven, CT 06520. E-mail:

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