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Top Tips for Avoiding a Return Trip to the Hospital

One in five Medicare patients is readmitted within a month — don’t be one of them

En español | In air travel, frequent fliers get a lot of perks. Not in the hospital. Patients who bounce in and out of the hospital are also called frequent fliers, and this happens to more people than you might think.

See also: Have a medication question? Ask the Pharmacist

For Medicare patients, one in five is rehospitalized within 30 days, one in three within three months, according to research by Stephen Jencks, M.D., published in 2009 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Nurse rushing a patient on a stretcher down a hallway. How to avoid hospital readmission.

Patients who are frequently readmitted to the hospital are often called "frequent fliers." — Photo by Scott Goldsmith/Getty Images

Readmission is less common for the under-65 population, but it's still a problem.

Many readmissions, which cost the health care system billions, are preventable. Researchers are working on several approaches — some wrapped into the new health care law — to reduce unnecessary trips to the ER and the hospital. While the experts try to improve coordination among hospitals, nursing homes and doctors' offices, they also have tips for families to reduce the risk — and the stress.

Make yourself heard — then say it again

Patients believe all their doctors — in the hospital and in the community, primary care and specialists, day and night shifts — communicate. That's not always true.

"Patients and families need to recognize that they, to a much greater extent than they might wish, are the glue holding this process together," says Jencks.

Eric Coleman, M.D., a care transitions expert at the University of Colorado Medical School, agrees: "Don't confuse information with communication."

  • Your regular doctor might not know you are in the hospital, let alone have time to visit you. If the hospital hasn't called, you or a family member should. Start planning your follow-up visit and tests. Half of the Medicare patients readmitted within a month hadn't seen a doctor after leaving the hospital, according to the study by Jencks.
  • "Teach-back" means hearing instructions and then repeating them back to hospital caregivers over a few days. This method helps people remember instructions about medicines, treatment and care. If the hospital doesn't do this, politely say, "Do I have this right?" and "Please explain this again."

Next: How to master your medications. >>

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