Hospitals and Pharmacies Partner to Lower Patient Readmissions

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Reducing patient readmissions, especially among Medicare patients, is one of the greatest challenges facing the healthcare executives that HCE has had the privilege of interviewing and profiling.

According to a news segment by Eric Whitney on NPR’s Morning Edition, “About 1 in 5 Medicare patients who leave the hospital come back within 30 days. Those return trips cost U.S. taxpayers a lot of money–more than $17 billion a year.”

As we’ve discussed before, the government is now penalizing hospitals for these readmissions, which has led some healthcare organizations to partner with their local drugstores to assist them in managing the care of Medicare patients following discharge, Whitney reports.

He gives the example of 73-year-old Dorothy Irene Tucker, who recently completed a stay at Washington, D.C.’s Washington Adventist Hospital. Upon discharge, Tucker was put on 20 different medications.

Whitney writes that many patients like Tucker leave the hospital in a “bewildered state,” for a variety of reasons. Some are suffering from sleep deprivation, “many haven’t been eating regularly, and lots of them are still coming to terms with whatever event landed them in the hospital in the first place.”

Leaving as Tucker was with “a long list” of prescriptions that require coordination and attentiveness may be something the patient isn’t ready to handle just yet.

That’s why, in Tucker’s case, Washington Adventist partnered with Walgreens, using a new service the chain is offering called WellTransitions. This service is designed “to connect patients with pharmacists who act as coaches” or in the words of a Walgreens executive, “our grandfather’s Walgreens on steroids.”

Whitney writes, “Walgreens is now contracting with hospitals to eliminate conflicting prescriptions on discharge, and then the pharmacy will check back with patients to make sure they understand all their medications and take them properly when they get home.”

Even though it’s costing his hospital a little extra money, Washington Adventist’s Dr. Randall Wagner is thrilled with the program. He told Whitney, “The infrastructure of doing these callback programs is not merely that there’s a telephone and someone who can dial it.”

It’s actually more complex, he said, because “it involves creating a database, creating a group of people who can call, and if the patient doesn’t answer the phone, there’s someone else who can call back. There’s a handoff of information between the inpatient side and the outpatient side.”

Therefore, whatever expense is incurred by partnering with a pharmacy like Walgreens is inevitably offset by the avoidance of federal penalties and the consumption of an organization’s resources.

What do you think about WellTransitions? Would you be willing to try it at your healthcare organization? What are some of the struggles you face with patient readmissions?

For more information on reducing readmissions by partnering with pharmacies, please see this November 15, 2012, article from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices newsletter.

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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