Nearly 10% of Hospitalized Patients With
COVID-19 Later Readmitted

Laird Harrison

November 11, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

About one in 11 patients discharged after COVID-19 treatment is readmitted to the same hospital, according to researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Older age and chronic diseases are associated with increased risk, said senior author Adi V. Gundlapalli, MD, PhD, chief public health informatics officer of the CDC's Center for Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Services.

Gundlapalli and colleagues published the finding November 9 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

To get a picture of readmission after COVID-19 hospitalization, the researchers analyzed records of 126,137 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 between March and July and included in the Premier Healthcare Database, which covers discharge records from 865 nongovernmental, community, and teaching hospitals.

Overall, 15% of the patients died during hospitalization. Of those who survived to discharge, 9% were readmitted to the same hospital within 2 months of discharge; 1.6% of patients were readmitted more than once. The median interval from discharge to first readmission was 8 days (interquartile range, 3-20 days). This short interval suggests that patients are probably not suffering a relapse, Gundlapalli said in an interview. More likely they experienced some adverse event, such as difficulty breathing, that led their caretakers to send them back to the hospital.

Forty-five percent of the primary discharge diagnoses after readmission were infectious and parasitic diseases, primarily COVID-19. The next most common were circulatory system symptoms (11%) and digestive symptoms (7%).

After controlling for covariates, the researchers found that patients were more likely to be readmitted if they had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (odds ratio [OR], 1.4), heart failure (OR, 1.6), diabetes (OR, 1.2), or chronic kidney disease (OR, 1.6).

They also found increased odds among patients discharged from the index hospitalization to a skilled nursing facility (OR, 1.4) or with home health organization support (OR, 1.3), compared with being discharged to home or self-care.

Looked at another way, the rate of readmission was 15% among those discharged to a skilled nursing facility, 12% among those needing home health care and 7% of those discharged to home or self-care.

The researchers also found that people who had been hospitalized within 3 months prior to the index hospitalization were 2.6 times more likely to be readmitted than those without prior inpatient care.

Further, the odds of readmission increased significantly among people over 65 years of age compared with people aged 18 to 39 years.

"The results are not surprising," Gundlapalli said. “We have known from before that elderly patients, especially with chronic conditions, certain clinical conditions, and those who have been hospitalized before, are at risk for readmission.”

But admitting COVID-19 patients requires special planning because they must be isolated and because more personal protective equipment (PPE) is required, he pointed out.

One unexpected finding from the report is that non-Hispanic White people were more likely to be readmitted than were people of other racial or ethnic groups. This contrasts with other research showing Hispanic and Black individuals are more severely affected by COVID-19 than White people. More research is needed to explain this result, Gundlapalli said.

The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

MMWR. Published online November 9, 2020. Full text

Laird Harrison writes about science, health and culture. His work has appeared in national magazines, in newspapers, on public radio and on websites. He is at work on a novel about alternate realities in physics. Visit him at lairdharrison.com or follow him on  Twitter: @LairdH .

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