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The American Journal of Managed Care June 2019
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Association of Decision Support for Hospital Discharge Disposition With Outcomes
Winthrop F. Whitcomb, MD; Joseph E. Lucas, PhD; Rachel Tornheim, MBA; Jennifer L. Chiu, MPH; and Peter Hayward, PhD
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Association of Decision Support for Hospital Discharge Disposition With Outcomes

Winthrop F. Whitcomb, MD; Joseph E. Lucas, PhD; Rachel Tornheim, MBA; Jennifer L. Chiu, MPH; and Peter Hayward, PhD
The use of clinical decision support for hospital discharge disposition was associated with a reduction in spending and readmissions without negatively affecting emergency department use.
DISCUSSION

We tested a CDS tool for post–hospital discharge destination and found that following its recommendation was associated with reduced spending and readmissions, with no change in ED use, over the course of an episode encompassing a hospitalization and the ensuing 90-day postdischarge period for patients participating in the Medicare bundled payment program. For cases that were discharged to a more intense care level than the recommendation, associated spending and readmissions were greater, whereas ED use was unchanged. For cases discharged to less intense care than recommended, spending was reduced, whereas readmissions and ED use were unchanged.

Because of the observational nature of the study, it is difficult to definitively state the reasons for lower spending or readmission reductions when following the tool’s recommendation. It is possible that the recommendation-concordant group—who went home more often and to postacute facilities less often (Table 1)—recovered more successfully because they were in the home environment. The hazards of postacute facilities (eg, falls, delirium, infection, poor nutrition, decreased mobility, deconditioning29,30) may play a role in increased readmissions and ED use, although the evidence on the impact of home care versus alternative locations on health outcomes is inconclusive.31 Alternatively, in select patients, such as those undergoing elective total joint replacement, a home discharge has been associated with lower readmissions.32

Similarly, the reasons for findings associated with less intense and more intense discharge decisions are speculative. It is conceivable that for many patients, receiving less intense posthospital care than the tool recommends is in actuality the appropriate care level, thus explaining why spending is lower and readmissions and ED use were no different from those of the recommendation-concordant group. For patients receiving more intense care, which may in part be driven by patient/caregiver preferences, one may argue that higher spending and readmissions are explained by patient factors; however, the propensity model was designed to adjust for such factors.

For patients discharged to a less intense level of care than recommended, because readmissions and ED use were unchanged in that group, it is likely that if the discharge team’s judgment supports the decision to discharge to a less intense level, such a decision is safe and appropriate. Conversely, if a more intense level of care is felt to be required, the team should consider this study’s findings of higher readmissions and ED use and carefully consider the purported benefits of the decision.

The results of the study also showed that in the comparison of cases receiving CDS tool testing—regardless of whether the recommendation was followed—versus no testing, there was no statistically significant change in spending and no change in readmission rate or ED use. It is likely that providers were selective about who received the tool, namely that those tested had longer hospital lengths of stay and higher rates of dual enrollment, suggesting they may be sicker and more likely in need of additional care after discharge. This is relevant because even with the propensity model, it is difficult to adjust for all the differences between the tested and untested, yet the potentially sicker tested group did not have worse outcomes.

It should be stated that the intention of the CDS tool is to inform the discharge planning team’s evaluation regarding the factors influencing discharge destination, with a final decision arrived at with input from the patient/caregiver and the judgment of the team. Discussion and evaluation by the team of the tool’s data elements—including measures of independence, availability of a capable caregiver, and postacute needs—along with other details of each particular case can form the basis of a structured process yielding a final decision. The adoption of such a process for evaluating patients’ postdischarge destination may help hospitals looking to improve the precision with which various postacute services and settings are recommended.

Limitations

The study was limited to the use of observational data. Thus, if there are unmeasured confounders associated with the decision to follow the CDS tool’s recommendation, or to use the tool at all, there may be uncorrected bias in the results. Because providers may exercise discretion as to who receives the CDS tool, selection bias may be a significant factor in differences between the tested and untested groups. Also, the study used only Medicare Part A and Part B claims data in its outcomes analysis. It is possible that clinical data would have improved the propensity model and increased the relevance of the outcomes. It is also possible that there were differences in spending not reflected in Part A and Part B claims, such as out-of-pocket spending or that associated with supplemental insurance, that were not measured.

The population in the study was limited to patients 65 years or older. We cannot rule out the possibility that the impact of the test will differ among younger patients. Moreover, the analysis of recommendation concordance is confounded by the fact that providers’ discharge decisions are potentially affected by the tool’s recommendations.

CONCLUSIONS

This study demonstrated an association between concordance with a CDS algorithm and decreased 90-day episode spending and readmissions, with no adverse effect on postdischarge ED visits. The study is an example of an innovative approach to care redesign under a bundled payment model. Because bundled payments create an incentive to critically evaluate decisions affecting discharge destination, the development and implementation of the CDS tool can be viewed as a result of a new payment incentive.

Acknowledgments

The authors acknowledge the valuable contributions of Georgine Schmidt, RN; Susana Hall, RN, MBA; Benjamin Record, BA; Luann Tammany, PT, MBA; and Steve Wiggins, MBA, to the manuscript. All are affiliated with Remedy Partners.

Author Affiliations: Remedy Partners (WFW, JLC, PH), Norwalk, CT; Village Care of New York (RT), New York, NY; Vital Statistics, LLC (JEL), Chapel Hill, NC.

Source of Funding: None.

Author Disclosures: Drs Whitcomb and Hayward report current employment with and stock options in Remedy Partners. Ms Chiu reports previous employment with Remedy Partners. Ms Tornheim reports previous employment with and stock options in Remedy Partners. Dr Lucas reports receiving payment from Remedy Partners for involvement in the preparation of this manuscript.

Authorship Information: Concept and design (WFW, RT, PH); acquisition of data (WFW, JLC, PH); analysis and interpretation of data (WFW, RT, JEL, JLC, PH); drafting of the manuscript (WFW, JEL); critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content (WFW, JEL, PH); statistical analysis (JEL, PH); administrative, technical, or logistic support (WFW, RT, JLC, PH); and supervision (PH).

Address Correspondence to: Winthrop F. Whitcomb, MD, Remedy Partners, 800 Connecticut Ave, 3rd Floor, Norwalk, CT 06854. Email: wwhitcomb@remedypartners.com.
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