NEW ORLEANS (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – A significant reduction in 30-day all-cause hospital readmissions after sleeve gastrectomy was accomplished through the first-ever joint national quality improvement collaboration between the American College of Surgeons and the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, John M. Morton, MD, reported at Obesity Week 2016.

The quality improvement program, known as DROP, for Decreasing Readmissions through Opportunities Provided, was developed by the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program ( MBSAQIP ). It was put to the test in a year-long study conducted in 128 nationally representative U.S. hospitals. The study involved a comparison of the participating hospitals’ 30-day all-cause readmission rates following bariatric surgery in the year prior to vs. the year after launch of the DROP project.

Overall, the 30-day all-cause readmission rate after primary laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding, laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy, or laparoscopic Roux-en-Y gastric bypass dropped only modestly, from 4.76% to 4.61%, a relative reduction of 3.2%. But that’s not the whole story. Hidden within that modest overall result were major improvements, Dr. Morton said at the meeting, presented by the Obesity Society of America and the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.

Of particular interest was the finding that the readmission rate following laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy decreased from 4.02% to 3.54%, a 12% reduction. That’s an important finding, because sleeve gastrectomy is now by far the most frequently performed type of bariatric surgery in the United States. Indeed, it accounted for 54% of the estimated 196,000 bariatric surgery procedures performed in the country in 2015. Roux-en-Y gastric bypass was a distant second at 23%, followed by surgical revisions at 13.6%.

Moreover, the impact of the DROP initiative appeared to accelerate over time. The initiative as tested consisted of a comprehensive bundle of numerous components addressing preoperative, in-hospital, and postoperative care, and it took a while for hospitals to implement. The 30-day readmission rate following laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy actually increased by 9.2% in the first 3 months following launch of the DROP initiative. But the readmission rate then took a U-turn, declining by 13.2% in the second quarter compared to the year-before rate, by 16.9% in the third quarter, and falling by 27.1% in the final 3 months of the study.

Mean length of stay for patients undergoing laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy fell significantly, from 1.9 days pre-DROP to 1.79 days. The DROP intervention also achieved a significant decrease in length of stay for laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding, from 0.5 to 0.42 days.

The rate of readmission within 24 hours post discharge in laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy patients decreased significantly by 19% after introduction of the DROP program. The trend was favorable, albeit not statistically significant, for the other two bariatric procedures studied.

Of note, hospitals in the two quartiles with the lowest preintervention 30-day all-cause readmission rates post bariatric surgery, with rates of 1.34% and 3.15%, respectively, didn’t derive any further reduction by participating in the DROP program. They already were performing many of the elements included in the intervention. But hospitals in the third quartile significantly improved their 30-day readmission rate from 4.84% to 4.13%, and those in the fourth quartile improved from 7.31% preintervention to 4.47% under the DROP program.

The program had no impact on postoperative leak rates or other surgical complications. However, patient satisfaction scores improved after introduction of the DROP intervention.

The preoperative components of the DROP readmission prevention bundle included a standardized 5-minute educational video featuring a surgeon, nutritionist, pharmacist, and psychologist or psychiatrist, with advice on key issues related to the upcoming operation. That’s also when the visits with the surgeon and a nutritionist were to be scheduled for within 30 days post surgery, and when the patient received phone numbers for the clinic and on-call surgeon in case questions arose later.

The in-hospital elements of the DROP intervention included provision of a clinical roadmap to guide patient expectations, as well as a nutritional consultation. The postoperative components included a day-after-discharge phone call from a nurse or physician assistant, a letter sent to the referring physician containing a discharge summary and recommendations, and a system to make sure that the scheduled follow-up appointments with the surgeon and nutritionist actually take place.

Since adherence to the various components of the DROP bundle varied from hospital to hospital, it was possible for Dr. Morton and his coinvestigators to determine which elements made the most difference in improving 30-day readmission rates. They found that the key difference makers were the nurse’s phone call on the day following discharge and the postoperative visits with the surgeon and nutritionist within the first several weeks.

Asked whether the study findings mean that hospitals that already have a 30-day all-cause readmission rate in the lower half of the national average don’t need to adopt the DROP program, Dr. Morton replied: “One size does not fit all. Maybe some centers don’t need to do all this.”

Thirty-day all-cause readmissions were selected for the first quality improvement project by the MBSAQIP in part because the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has identified it as a priority area for surgery in general. Also, Dr. Morton was a coinvestigator in a study that found many readmissions after bariatric surgery are tied to preventable causes, including dietary indiscretions resulting in nausea and vomiting or dehydration, medication side effects, and inappropriate patient expectations ( J Gastrointest Surg. 2016 Nov;20[11]:1797-1801 ).

“I think readmissions are a good outcome to study, because they incorporate many different elements of the patient experience, including patient safety and satisfaction. No surgeon wants to have a patient come back to the ER and be readmitted. And finally, there’s the cost,” Dr. Morton observed.

He noted that members of the MBSAQIP developed the DROP project in a highly efficient and cost-effective manner through a series of webinars and conference calls without the need for face-to-face meetings. The group plans to follow the same approach to its future quality improvement programs.

The DROP study was funded without industry support. Dr. Morton reported serving on advisory boards for Allurion and Novo Nordisk.