News Release
October 31, 2013

Penn Medicine Study Finds Most Early Rehospitalization after Kidney Transplant Caused by Complexity of the Condition, not Poor Quality of Care

Findings Also Reveal that Patients Who Are Hospitalized Soon After Transplant More Likely to Die during Six Years Following Surgery

PHILADELPHIA — A study of over 750 kidney transplant patients over a five-year period conducted by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania has found that 90 percent of early rehospitalizations (within 30 days of surgery) were caused by complex medical factors related to the transplantation process. Only nine percent of rehospitalizations – which occurred among only three percent of the entire group of patients – were categorized as potentially preventable.  

The study, published online this week in the American Journal of Transplantation, found that 237 patients (nearly one-third) were rehospitalized early following surgery, with a median of nine days to rehospitalization after discharge from kidney transplant. In most of these cases, the readmissions were unplanned and occurred as a result of common postsurgical complications.  Deep vein thrombosis (blood clots), post-operative pain, organ rejection, fluid imbalances including volume overload (too much fluid in the blood) or volume depletion (decrease in volume of blood plasma, potentially leading to shock), and wound infections were key complicating factors leading to early rehospitalization.

“Nationally,  high rates of early rehospitalization after kidney transplantation have been reported, but little information is available about what caused these events and whether they could be prevented,” said lead study author Meera Nair Harhay, MD, MSCE, instructor of Medicine in the Renal, Electrolyte and Hypertension Division at Penn. “Early rehospitalization has also been examined by Medicare as a hospital quality of care indicator, with financial penalties for early rehospitalization after certain medical conditions. However, our findings indicate that transplant recipients are a particularly vulnerable group that often requires additional care after undergoing surgery and being exposed to new medications.”  

In the study, which is the first to use intensive chart review to assess preventability of early rehospitalization, two physicians independently examined the medical charts of the 237 readmitted transplant patients. Only 19 cases were found to be preventable readmissions by the reviewing physicians. Preventable causes of readmission identified by the study include 1) patients not having had an outpatient physician/nurse practitioner assessment before being admitted, 2) an alternative medical regimen not having been prescribed at discharge, 3) patients not having been compliant with their medication regimen, and 4) inadequate outpatient diagnostic or therapeutic procedures having been available.

The study also found that 30 percent of rehospitalized patients were originally discharged after their transplant on the weekend, versus 23 percent of patients who were not readmitted –a statistically significant finding highlighting the need for careful transitions of care when staffing is variable and more limited, such as occurs on the weekends. “If further multicenter studies confirm these findings, transplant centers should consider augmenting staffing and the oversight related to weekend discharges,” said senior author Peter Reese MD, MSCE, assistant professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at Penn.

The study also revealed how long waiting times for transplantation increase the risk of post-transplant complications. For every year of additional waiting time prior to kidney transplantation, recipients were 10 percent more likely to experience early rehospitalization. Kidney transplant recipients who were rehospitalized within 30 days of transplant were 55 percent more likely to die within a six-year follow-up period than those who were not rehospitalized. “These findings indicate that early rehospitalization may be a strong signal of patient vulnerability, and such patients may benefit from more careful clinical monitoring post-transplant,” said Harhay.

In addition to Harhay and Reese, Penn Medicine co-authors of the study include Eugene Lin, Akshta Pai, Michael O. Harhay, Adam Mussell, Peter Abt, Matthew Levine, Roy Bloom, Judy Shea, and Andrea Troxel.

The study was partially supported by training grants (5T32DK007006-38 and F32DK096758-01) from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

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Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $4.3 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 17 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $392 million awarded in the 2013 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania -- recognized as one of the nation's top "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Penn Presbyterian Medical Center; Chester County Hospital; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital -- the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Chestnut Hill Hospital and Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2013, Penn Medicine provided $814 million to benefit our community.

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