Are readmission rates on a neurosurgical service indicators of quality of care?

Clinical article

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The goal of this study was to examine the reasons for early readmissions within 30 days of discharge to a major academic neurosurgical service.


A database of readmissions within 30 days of discharge between April 2009 and September 2010 was retrospectively reviewed. Clinical and administrative variables associated with readmission were examined, including age, sex, race, days between discharge and readmission, and insurance type. The readmissions were then assigned independently by 2 neurosurgeons into 1 of 3 categories: scheduled, adverse event, and unrelated. The adverse event readmissions were further subcategorized into patients readmitted although best practices were followed, those readmitted due to progression of their underlying disease, and those readmitted for preventable causes. These variables were compared descriptively.


A total of 348 patients with 407 readmissions were identified, comprising 11.5% of the total 3552 admissions. The median age of readmitted patients was 55 years (range 16–96 years) and patients older than 65 years totaled 31%. There were 216 readmissions (53% of 407) for management of an adverse event that was classified as either preventable (149 patients; 37%) or unpreventable (67 patients; 16%). There were 113 patients (28%) who met readmission criteria but who were having an electively scheduled neurosurgical procedure. Progression of disease (48 patients; 12%) and treatment unrelated to primary admission (30 patients; 7%) were additional causes for readmission. There was no significant difference in the proportion of early readmissions by payer status when comparing privately insured patients and those with public or no insurance (p = 0.09).


The majority of early readmissions within 30 days of discharge to the neurosurgical service were not preventable. Many of these readmissions were for adverse events that occurred even though best practices were followed, or for progression of the natural history of the neurosurgical disease requiring expected but unpredictably timed subsequent treatment. Judicious care often requires readmission to prevent further morbidity or death in neurosurgical patients, and penalties for readmission will not change these patient care obligations.

Abbreviations used in this paper:CMS = Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; SDH = subdural hematoma; SSI = surgical site infection; VTE = venous thromboembolism.

Article Information

Address correspondence to: Ralph G. Dacey Jr., M.D., Campus Box 8057, Department of Neurosurgery, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri 63110. email:

Please include this information when citing this paper: published online April 26, 2013; DOI: 10.3171/2013.3.JNS121769.

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.




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