For seniors, hospitalization for an injury or illness means more than being out of commission for a couple of weeks. Because of age-related vulnerabilities, including slowed healing speed and preexisting chronic medical conditions, their post-acute care can be long, taxing, and laden with roadblocks and setbacks. In fact, following a hospitalization, nearly one in five Medicare patients (about 2.6 million older adults) return to the hospital within a month of discharge, according to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
Funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, the three-year study that yielded this data looked at post-hospital emergency care and hospitalizations among seniors who had one or more of six common operations: angioplasty or other minimally invasive heart procedures, coronary artery bypass, hip fracture repair, elective abdominal aortic aneurysm repair, back surgery, and colectomy. Visits to the emergency room after surgery were not only common — with 17 percent of these senior patients making one emergency visit within 30 days of leaving the hospital, and more than four percent making two or more visits — but were also predictors of another hospital stay. More than half of the older adults who sought this emergency care ended up back in a hospital bed. In 2012, the CMS took action to remedy this problem by financially penalizing hospitals with high readmissions rates in order to motivate them to work harder to prevent avoidable cases.
While some cases of post-discharge complications are unavoidable, several factors play key roles in ensuring that a senior receives the proper post-acute care and rehabilitation after a hospital stay and gets back to her optimum level of functioning. Strong continuity of care between healthcare providers and a full understanding of the post-discharge treatment plan on a senior’s part are among the most important. Here’s a closer look at the levels of post-acute care available to seniors, and the treatments and services they provide to ensure that patients receive fuller recoveries.