What factor has the biggest impact on readmission rates?

Although hospitals are spending increasing amounts to improve patient comfort and the amenities available at their facilities, a recent study suggests the single factor with the largest influence over readmission rates could be unrelated to those improvements.

"While investing in such material assets is easily done and provides immediate gratification, findings from our research using six years of data from nearly 3,000 acute-care hospitals suggest that it is the communication between caregivers and patients that has the largest impact on reducing readmissions," the authors of the study wrote in a post on the Harvard Business Review.

While investing in superficial changes to hospitals is shown to improve the attitudes of caregivers and may in turn encourage better interpersonal communication skills with patients, the study shows the real shift in readmission stems from changing hospital culture and solving delivery of care problems. However, the training costs associated with improving the communication-focused dimension of the patient experience are significant. The research suggests the cost of changing culture drops when combined with improvements in other dimensions of care that influence the patient experience.

"These results present an interesting cost-quality tradeoff for U.S. hospitals," the authors wrote. "While it is generally costly for hospitals to improve the patient experience, these costs are lower and the benefits are also higher if, in combination with a high-quality process of care, the focus is directed at improving communication between caregivers and patients. This has a dual punch of not only being less expensive but also far superior in reducing readmissions. These results have important implications for where hospital administrators should invest to improve the overall healthcare delivery system in the United States."

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