Are We Just Creating a Bunch of Patient Cliffs?

Posted on March 31, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

In a recent discussion someone pointed out to me one of the real challenges of HCAPHS and reducing hospital readmissions. After the 60 days (or 90 days in some cases), hospitals don’t care if the patient is readmitted. What does this do? It creates a cliff where the patient is no longer followed, tracked, or supported by the hospital. The hospital doesn’t financially care any more since if you get readmitted to the hospital after 60 days, then it doesn’t count against their readmission score and they get reimbursed for another hospital visit. In fact, you could argue that it’s in a hospital’s best interest to have you readmitted after the 60 days since that’s more revenue for the hospital. The reality for many hospitals is that they need their beds full to run their business.

We’re already seeing this cliff in hospital readmissions, but I wonder if we’re going to see similar cliffs across all of the value based reimbursement programs that are to come. I think we probably will, but we’ll see what the final programs look like.

In some ways it makes sense why you’d want to set an arbitrary number of days after which a hospital readmission (or whatever health event you’re tracking) should not count against that hospital. It’s not like we can expect a hospital to prevent a patient from being readmitted forever. Or can we…at least for a specific condition?

It all gets really complicated and messy with thousands of nuances and variations. This is why I’m scared about what’s happening with value based reimbursement. Does anyone trust the government to dive into enough detail to make sure that the program rewards the right efforts and doesn’t penalize the organizations that are trying to do the right thing for the patient? Sometimes it feels like we’re just trying to move around deck chairs on the Titanic.

What does excite me is that we’re going to have much more data available to quantify the work that’s being done. We’re going to have much better ways to communicate with the patient. Patients are going to likely demand more transparency from their doctor. These are all movements in the right direction. I just don’t think patients are going to be happy with what they find. I know most doctors I know aren’t happy with it either.

I know they won’t be happy if they’re the patient that falls off the 60 day “cliff.” Patients will aptly ask, “So, you only care about my health for 60 days?”