Defense Health Agency study finds decrease in military hospital readmissions

FALLS CHURCH, Virginia – A newly published study of readmissions for patients at military hospitals found decreases in both the seven and 30-day rates between 2011 and 2018. The study, “Prevalence of Unplanned Readmissions among Patients of Military Treatment Facilities” is being published in the August 2019 edition of Health Affairs Journal.

Over time, seven-day unplanned readmissions decreased slightly from 2.6 percent in 2011 to 2.2 percent in 2018. The 30-day unplanned readmissions decreased slightly from 6.1 percent of admissions in 2011 to 5.4 percent in 2018. Readmission rates were also found to be lower for the military population compared to other insurance groups. Despite lower rates in the Military Health System, inpatient readmission remains a disruptive and costly endeavor for patients, families and the system, reducing readiness of service members and their units.             

The readmissions study was selected from more than 190 submissions and underwent a rigorous peer-review process to gain approval for publication. In the study, DHA researchers assessed the all cause seven-day and 30-day readmission rates in military hospitals by product line for patients ages 18-64 by utilizing inpatient data from the MHS and the private sector. Readmission rates differed among the obstetric, medical and surgical product lines. Obstetrics patients had the greatest number of readmissions (396,072), but the lowest 7-day readmission rate (1.5 percent). Medical patients had the highest readmission rates, 3.3 percent for seven-day and 8.8 percent for 30-day for the entire eight-year study period. By clinical condition, sickle cell anemia and systemic lupus erythematosus, and connective tissue disorders had the highest 7-day and 30-day readmission rates.

The study is being released in the Health Affairs theme issue on the Military Health System. This issue focuses on the coverage and care systems serving military personnel and veterans, including challenges and opportunities to improve care. The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and the New York State Health Foundation both provided support for this theme issue.

In providing health services to nearly 10 million current and former service members and their families, the MHS serves an important segment of the population underrepresented in peer-reviewed literature. “Prevalence of Unplanned Readmissions” provides a formative look at unplanned hospital readmissions in this relatively young population, and publication in Health Affairs provides critical exposure for the important work of DHA researchers.

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