Starting this fall, five medical centers in Virginia may face penalties when patients are re-admitted to the hospital after being discharged. The new penalties are the result of a change in the way Medicare pays hospitals.
Hospitals are supposed to help patients get well, but a hefty number end up coming back, because something goes wrong after discharge.
"Twenty percent, or one in five Medicare patients are re-admitted to the hospital within 30 days," says Carolyn Engelhard, who directs the Health Policy Program at the University of Virginia.
Some of those re-admissions are unavoidable, but Engelhard says others could be prevented by making sure patients and their families understand what needs to be done once they get home, by sending nurses to check on the patient's recovery and by assuring that doctors stay in touch.
Hoping to improve planning and care for patients after discharge, Medicare — the federal program that covers senior citizens — plans to impose a penalty on hospitals with high rates of re-admission. Based on their track records, 14 medical centers in Virginia won't be charged, but Engelhard says the rest of the state's hospitals will forfeit up to one percent of the money they get from Medicare.
This story was produced in partnership with Virginia Public Radio, NPR and Kaiser Health News.