Post-Hospital Syndrome Contributes to Readmission Risk for Elderly


Post-hospital syndrome, as labeled in a recent, widely publicized opinion piece in the New England Journal of Medicine, is not a new concept, according to one hospitalist pioneer.1

Harlan Krumholz, MD, of the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., writes in NEJM what others previously have described as “hospitalization-associated disability,” says Mark Williams, MD, MHM, chief of hospital medicine at Northwestern University School of Medicine and principal investigator of SHM’s Project BOOST (www.hospitalmedicine.org/boost).2

Dr. Krumholz found that the majority of 30-day readmissions for elderly patients with heart failure, pneumonia, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are for conditions other than the diagnosis named at discharge. He attributes this phenomenon to hospitalization-related sleep deprivation, malnourishment, pain and discomfort, cognition- and physical function-altering medications, deconditioning from bed rest or inactivity, and the experience of confronting stressful, mentally challenging situations in the hospital.1 Such stressors leave elderly patients with post-hospitalization disabilities comparable to a bad case of jet lag.

For Dr. Williams, the physical deterioration leading to rehospitalizations is better attributed to the underlying serious illness and comorbidities experienced by elderly patients—a kind of high-risk, post-illness syndrome. Prior research also has demonstrated the effects of bed rest for hospitalized elderly patients.

Regardless of the origins, is there anything hospitalists can do about this syndrome? “Absolutely,” Dr. Williams says. “Get elderly, hospitalized patients out of bed as quickly as possible, and be mindful of medications and their effects on elderly patients. But most hospitalists already think about these things when managing elderly patients.”


  1. Krumholz HM. Post-hospital syndrome: an acquired transition condition of generalized risk. N Engl J Med. 2013;368:100-102.
  2. Covinsky KE, Pierluissi E, Johnston CB. Hospitalization-associated disability: “She was probably able to ambulate, but I’m not sure.” JAMA. 2011;306(16):1782-1793.

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