The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) recently released the annual National Healthcare Quality & Disparities Reports. The reports provide in-depth quality information on the overall population and divide this information along such subgroups as race, ethnicity, and education level. The report is more than 200 pages long, but it can be summarized in one sentence: If you are poor, the quality of your healthcare is likely to be poor.
Despite significant quality improvement (QI) in a number of areas, disparities among poor Americans persist. For example, the percentage of heart-attack patients who underwent procedures to unblock heart arteries within 90 minutes improved to 81% in 2008 from 42% in 2005. This is very positive news, but unfortunately, these and many other gains in quality only apply to higher-income populations.
A new section of the report focused on care coordination and transitions of care contains some statistics of particular interest to hospitalists. One statistic shows that the percentage of hospitalized adult patients with heart failure who were given complete written discharge instructions improved to 82.0% in 2008, up from 57.5% in 2005.
It is important to note that this number remains more or less constant across all racial/ethnic divisions. Could part of this improvement be attributed to the growth and success of the hospitalist movement?
Hospitalists know that despite the numbers, a successful transition does not simply include discharge instructions; it is the combination of those instructions, along with coordination with primary care, that prevents avoidable readmissions.
Unfortunately, 15% to 20% of low-income patients have no regular primary-care physician (PCP). If a condition begins to deteriorate, this group often has little choice but to return to the hospital.
In the absence of a PCP, it is the hospitalist who can provide patients with the tools they need to stay healthy after leaving the hospital.
Such assistance can range from ensuring that patients truly understand their discharge instructions to being a resource for future questions. Hospitalists are ahead of the game when it comes to quality and reducing disparities; it is just a matter of the other facets of healthcare catching up.
The National Healthcare Quality & Disparities reports are available at www.ahrq.gov/qual/qrdr10.htm. TH