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Community Partnerships, Data Key to Readmission Reduction in Diverse Populations


When Houston Methodist Hospital noticed patients in one particular zip code were failing to make it to follow-up appointments after hospital discharge, they looked into it.

“We found it wasn’t on a bus route,” says Janice Finder, RN, MSN, director of the hospital’s Transitions in Care program and a part of SHM’s Project BOOST, which focuses on successful discharge outcomes. So in collaboration with the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, the hospital provided cab vouchers for these patients to travel to and from appointments.

The hospital also realized that to improve the chances its large Hispanic diabetic population remained healthy, it would need to tailor its disease management efforts to their culture, particularly when it came to diet.

“Their eating habits are very different, and we want to ensure they have meals based on what they actually eat,” Finder says.

These are exactly the kinds of approaches a new guide developed for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) by the Disparities Solutions Center (DSC), based at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston, is looking to promote in an effort to reduce unnecessary hospital readmissions.1 CMS recently made the Guide to Preventing Readmissions among Racially and Ethnically Diverse Medicare Beneficiaries available on its website.

Aswita Tan-McGrory, MBA, MSPH

Aswita Tan-McGrory, MBA, MSPH

“We know readmissions is an issue for diverse populations, that they are more likely than their white counterparts to be admitted within 30 days of discharge,” says Aswita Tan-McGrory, MBA, MSPH, deputy director of DSC within the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at MGH. “So there was a good business case for creating this guide.”

Keys to Success

Within the guide is a collection of evidence-based information, case studies, and seven recommendations the DSC team assembled to assist hospital leaders looking to reduce readmissions among some of the nation’s highest-risk populations.

While Tan-McGrory acknowledges it may be impractical for hospitals to adopt each recommendation, she says they can pick and choose which they can most effectively adopt.

“We put together these seven steps and looked for who does this really well, and the honest truth is not very many are,” she says. “It’s a complicated process, but it’s some guidance because there really wasn’t anything out there.”

Included in the recommendations: Create a “strong radar” (engage in robust data collection), identify root causes, begin to think about discharge at admission, deploy a team, consider systems and social determinants, focus on culturally competent communication, and foster community partnerships.

“It’s not just medication reconciliation or discharge instructions in a different language,” Tan-McGrory says. “What happens when a patient gets home?”

These types of questions are important because CMS now penalizes hospitals for what it deems excessive avoidable readmissions within 30 days of discharge. In 2016, hospitals can lose up to 3% of their Medicare payments under the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program.

In 2014, nearly 18% of Medicare patients were admitted within a month of discharge at a cost of $26 billion.2 According to the new guide, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality data indicate African-American and Hispanic patients make up a higher share of these readmissions, in part because they are disproportionately affected by chronic high-readmission-risk diseases like congestive heart failure.

Social Determinants

Though it’s challenging for healthcare providers, one way to reduce readmissions is to address the social determinants of health, Tan-McGrory says.

“Hospitals have felt in the past that it’s not their domain, but their patients are coming back,” she says. “How do you address people’s isolation at home? How can you send them from the hospital when no one is there to follow up or take care of them?”

The answers may lie in part on building community partnerships, something in which Finder’s hospital has successfully engaged. For example, the hospital has teamed with its local United Way to work with Asian patients on issues related to pain management and palliative care.

At Berkshire Medical Center, a 300-bed community teaching hospital in western Massachusetts, electronic health software helps staff flag patients at admission for potential readmission risks. Looking briefly at the new guide, William DeMarco, DO, SFHM, chief of hospital medicine (and also part of Project BOOST), noticed several new areas they may be able to incorporate into the system.

But adequate data collection and interpretation to help understand these disparities is not always possible, particularly for readmissions, Dr. DeMarco says.

However, as in one of the case studies examined in the DCS guide, Berkshire recently began to identify its high utilizers, pairing multidisciplinary teams with individual primary care providers in order to help meet these patients’ needs.

“It can take several hours for one patient, coordinating and getting a lot of people together,” Dr. DeMarco says. “It’s the only way to accomplish that goal, but it’s very resource intensive.”

Although hospitals traditionally focus on what they can do within their four walls, providers are becoming increasingly aware that the social determinants of health—like transportation, dietary choices, and language barriers—deeply impact some racial and ethnically diverse populations. Now, CMS thinks it’s worth paying closer attention. TH

Kelly April Tyrrell is a freelance writer in Madison, Wis.


  1. Betancourt JR, Tan-McGrory A, Kenst KS. Guide to preventing readmissions among racially and ethnically diverse medicare beneficiaries. Prepared by the Disparities Solutions Center, Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital. Baltimore, MD: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Office of Minority Health; September 2015.
  2. Rau J. Medicare fines 2,610 hospitals in third round of readmission penalties. Kaiser Health News. Available at: Accessed February 15, 2016.

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