SMFM Special Statement: A critique of postpartum readmission rate as a quality metric

Publications & Guidelines, SMFM Statement,

Hospital readmission is considered a core measure of quality in healthcare. Readmission soon after hospital discharge can result from suboptimal care during the index hospitalization or from inadequate systems for post discharge care. For many conditions, readmission is associated with a high rate of serious morbidity and potentially avoidable costs. In obstetrics, for postpartum care specifically, hospitals and payers can easily track the rate of maternal readmission after childbirth and may seek to incentivize obstetricians, maternal-fetal medicine specialists, or provider groups to reduce the rate of readmission. However, this practice has not been shown to improve outcomes or reduce harm. There are major concerns with incentivizing providers to reduce postpartum readmissions, including the lack of a standardized metric, a baseline rate of 1% to 2% that is too low to accurately discriminate between random variation and controllable factors, the need for risk adjustment that greatly complicates rate calculations, the potential for bias depending on the duration of the follow-up interval, the potential for the “gaming” of the metric, the lack of evidence that obstetrical providers can influence the rate, and the potential for unintended harm in the vulnerable postpartum population. Until these problems are adequately addressed, maternal readmission rate after a childbirth hospitalization currently has limited utility as a metric for quality or performance improvement or as a factor to adjust provider reimbursement.

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