(CHICAGO) -- Eliminating the racial gaps in U.S. health care remains a national priority. One of those gaps involves hospital readmission rates. A new study finds black patients within the Medicare system are more likely than white patients to be readmitted within 30 days of a hospital visit for three common conditions, with differences related to race and where the care was received.
Heart problems or an episode of pneumonia are some of the most common conditions bringing the elderly into America's hospitals, but what happens to many of these patients in the first 30 days after they go home? "It's a time in which patients are very vulnerable to developing a complication that might end up with them coming back into the hospital," says Dr. Karen Joynt from Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital.
She along with co-authors analyzed data involving more than three million Medicare patients, admitted to hospitals nationwide from 2006 to 2008 for heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia. Researchers looked at how many of these patients were readmitted to the hospital during the first 30 days after being discharged. "Black patients overall had a 13 percent higher odds of readmission than white patients across all three conditions," according to Joynt. The study appears in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association. "Patients discharged from hospitals that served a high proportion of black patients had about a 25 percent higher odds of readmissions."
Researchers say understanding why black patients are readmitted to the hospital more often than white patients may help improve the quality of care they receive. "It's a time in which patients often have to adjust to new medications, new physicians sometimes, new follow up plans, new nutrition plans and that's a time where we're really seeing a disparity between patients who may have more resources to support them once they come out of the hospital," Joynt says. Involving family whenever possible may also help in improving patient outcomes.
Researchers say this study is one of the first nationwide looking at how the most common medical conditions are affecting Medicare patients.
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