When a patient is released from the hospital and must be quickly readmitted, it is bad news for the patient and the hospital, especially with the onset of new rules that are part of the Affordable Care Act.
As many as 20 percent of Medicare recipients are readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of discharge. A variety of research suggests hospitals don't have to be revolving doors if discharged patients are given enough care and support. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that on average, adopting better methods for caring for recently released frail patients in a community of 50,000 Medicare recipients would save Medicare more than $4 million per year in a community of that size alone -- and cost the community less than $1 million.
One of the authors of the study, Dr. Joanne Lynn, a physician specializing in geriatrics and director of the Center for Elder Care and Advanced Illness at Altarum Institute, a research organization, says the key is to get community services working together.
Lynn says the best offense is a concerted effort by people who are at or near retirement themselves, especially if they have had experience with their elderly parents. "At retirement, if people would invest their energies in improving their own communities, that would make a big difference," she says.
She points out that communities know how to coordinate care and activities for children, but they don't have much experience doing much the same thing for older people, largely because there haven't been large numbers of older people living independently in most communities. But the onslaught of aging boomers is coming, and preparing for it will improve quality of life, longevity and save money, particularly for the boomers themselves, she says.
"The first clue most people have that community care for older people is chaotic is with your own parents. I'm hoping boomers will wake up and say, 'I could be next, and this isn't the way I want this to work,'" Lynn says.
She urges getting involved with existing organizations -- municipal governments, local hospitals, Meals on Wheels, transportation for the elderly, senior centers -- as part of your retirement planning and working to make these organizations more responsive to today's style of aging. "When you are thinking about retirement and what to do next, consider that one possibility is to really get involved in your community. You can make a big difference," she says.