10k patients die each year within 7 days of leaving a hospital ER, study finds

More than 10,000 Medicare patients die each year within a week of leaving a hospital emergency room, according to a new study published in The BMJ — and typically they were released from a rural hospital or a hospital with low inpatient admission rates.

Researchers examined Medicare claims data covering ER visits from 2007 through 2012, looking at a nationally representative 20 percent sample of Medicare fee for service beneficiaries.

They found 0.12 percent of studied patients died within seven days of discharge from a hospital ER, which translates to 10,093 deaths annually.

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Hospitals in the lowest fifth of rates of inpatient admission from the ER had the highest rates of early death (2.7 percent), which was 3.4 times higher than hospitals in the highest fifth (0.08 percent).

"Hospitals with lower admission rates, lower costs and lower patient volumes had significantly higher rates of death after discharge, despite serving healthier overall patient populations," the study authors wrote.

Ziad Obermeyer, MD, an emergency medicine physician and professor in Boston, told STAT it's likely not provider error causing these higher rates of early death, but instead pointed to other factors like limited staffing and poorer hospitals and lack of transportation for rural patients to get to follow-up care.

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