Health Care In The States

Hospitals Hook Up With Drugstore Giants To Lower Readmissions

By Eric Whitney

February 20th, 2013, 6:08 AM

Patients who leave the hospital only to have to be readmitted within a few weeks cost U.S. taxpayers more than $17 billion a year.  In October, the federal government started cracking down on hospitals, penalizing them if too many of their patients bounce back.

That has hospitals searching for help from the corner drug store to manage the care of patients like Dorothy Irene Tucker.  She is a cheerful 73-year-old woman about to be discharged from Washington Adventist Hospital just outside of Washington, DC, where she says they don’t let you sleep much.

“To draw the blood, they would come in, like, twice before morning,” Tucker says.

It’s pretty common for patients to leave the hospital sleep-deprived. Many haven’t been eating regularly, and lots of people are still coming to terms with whatever event landed them in the hospital in the first place.

It’s also common for people in this bewildered state to be handed several new prescriptions upon discharge. Tucker takes pride in being able to manage all the different drugs she takes, but it’s a big list, and even she isn’t sure exactly what she’s supposed to be taking once she gets home.

“I was on a lot of medications. It was, I think, all together 23 bottles. Twenty-three bottles!  So they might cut me back when I go home,” she says.

Washington Adventist thinks patients like Tucker could use some help keeping all those drugs coordinated, and the hospital itself could use some help – so they enrolled her in a new program to connect her to a pharmacist.

Dr. Jeffery Kang is a vice president at Walgreens, and describes the new role as “our grandfather’s Walgreens on steroids.”  Walgreens is now contracting with hospitals to eliminate conflicting prescriptions on discharge, and then the pharmacy will follow up with patients to make sure they understand all their medications and take them properly when they get home.

The new expense makes sense for hospitals because if too many of their patients bounce back into the hospital within 30 days of being discharged, Medicare cuts their payments. Health Care Researcher Dr. Jane Brock says medication errors can be a big factor in readmissions.

“We know that people who have medication discrepancies, or are not adhering to what the health care team thought they were adhering to, have at least double the risk of becoming a readmission,” she says.

Washington Adventist Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Randall Wagner says his hospital was one of the first to contract with Walgreens, and he is happy with the program so far.  He says it’s harder for hospitals to monitor discharged patients and their medications than it might sound.

“The infrastructure of doing these call back programs is not merely that there’s a telephone and someone who can dial it,” Wagner explains.  “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.”

Research shows that having a pharmacist follow up with recently discharged patients reduces the likelihood that they’ll get worse at home and have to come back. Walgreens competitor CVS Caremark is also in the field.

Dorothy Tucker got home and had three fewer medications to keep track of than when she was admitted.  She says she looks forward to working with the pharmacy so she can learn her new regime.

This story is part of a collaboration that includes Colorado Public Radio, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

3 Responses to “Hospitals Hook Up With Drugstore Giants To Lower Readmissions”

  1. pappy says:

    If you have ever be “lucky” enough to spend any in-patient time in an American hospital, you’ll agree with me that once your doctor says you can go home, the hospital gives you the bums rush! Fact is, once the hospital knows you are going home, they can’t seem to dump you too quickly. As soon as the doctor signs you out, your hospital room fills up with nurses that are literally throwing meds at you and taking very little time to tell you how, when and where to take those meds. If bandages need to be changed at home, you’ll be lucky if they give you any instructions. The hospital cleaning people are beginning to change your sheets literally before you’ve even rolled out of the bed and they are cleaning the floors even before you’ve left the room. Once the doctor says it’s time to go home, the hospital welcome sign is yanked off the door. My daughter lives in the UK and, compared to the treatment they receive there, she is absolutely disgusted at how hospitals treat their patients here in America. Yet, Americans pay twice as much for the healthcare as do the citizens in the UK. Go figure!

  2. Go to sharecare website managed by Dr. Oz. See Dr Weil’s astute comments on the state of our healthcare system. It’s right on. We do not have a healthcare system. We have a disease management system. His words. Only through health education can we change the healthcare crisis we are in. Watch for my new video called N2E+ for life that expands on Dr. Weil’s summary of what is wrong in our bloated costly disease care system. Coming soon via Amazon.com Thomas Braun RPh http://www.n2e4u.com

  3. Go to sharecare website managed by Dr. Oz. See Dr Weil’s astute comments on the state of our healthcare system. It’s right on. We do not have a healthcare system. We have a disease management system. His words. Only through health education can we change the healthcare crisis we are in. Watch for my new video called N2E+ for life that expands on Dr. Weil’s summary of what is wrong in our bloated costly disease care system. Coming soon via Amazon.com Thomas Braun RPh www. n2e4u. com

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