Clinical Review

The Role of Process Improvements in Reducing Heart Failure Readmissions




We would like to emphasize that the elements of our heart failure readmissions interventions were not all put in place at once. This was an iterative process that proceeded in a stepwise fashion, with each step improving the care of our patients. We learned a number of lessons from our experience. First, we would advise that teams not try to do everything. One program simply cannot implement all possible readmission reduction interventions, and certainly not all at once. Trade-offs should be made, and interventions more likely to succeed in the local environment should be prioritized. In addition, interventions that do not fit and do not create synergy with the local practice environment should not be pursued.

Second, we would advise teams to start small, tackling a known problem in heart failure transitions of care first. This initial intuition is often right. An example might be improving 7-day appointments upon discharge. Starting with a problem that can be tackled builds process improvement muscle and improves team morale. Third, we would advise teams to consistently iterate on designs, tweaking and improving performance. Complex organizations always evolve; processes that work 1 year may fail the next because another element of the organization may have changed.

Finally, the framework presented in Figure 1 may be helpful in guiding how to structure interventions. Considering interventions to be delivered in the hospital, interventions to be delivered in the clinic, and how to set up feedback loops to support patients as outpatients help develop a comprehensive heart failure readmissions reduction program.

Corresponding author: R. Kannan Mutharasan, MD, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, 676 North Saint Clair St., Arkes Pavilion, Suite 7-038, Chicago, IL 60611;

Financial disclosures: None.


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