Patients who stayed in hospital for at least 3 days after bariatric surgery were up to four times as likely to be readmitted as were patients who were discharged within a day, according to a study in the August issue of Surgery.

Short length of stay (LOS) after bariatric surgery might not be a risk factor for readmission as long as clinical decisions reflect the individual needs of patients, said Alex W. Lois of the Medical College of Wisconsin, and his associates.

“The goal of a program or response to this study should not be to strive to discharge all patients in 1 day or less – the key is to discharge the right patients in the right circumstances in 1 day when feasible,” the researchers said.

Fast-tracking patients after laparoscopic bariatric surgery is controversial. Some papers have described successful programs, while others have described increased risk of morbidity or mortality without careful patient selection, the researchers noted. “Although discharge in 1 day or less is certainly possible, median duration of stay is closer to 2 days for most patients,” they noted ( Surgery. 2015 Aug;158[2]:501-7 ).

To examine the risks of fast-tracking bariatric surgery patients, the researchers performed a multicenter database analysis of 95,294 such patients who were treated from January 2009 to December 2013. The average age of the patients was 44 years, and more than three-quarters were female. Most procedures were laparoscopic Roux en-Y gastric bypass (LRYGB) surgeries, the investigators noted.

In all, 5,423 patients (5.7%) were readmitted before the end of the study period, and 83 (0.1%) died, said the investigators. Patients with 3-day and more than 3-day LOS after bariatric surgery had double and quadruple the risk of readmission, compared with patients with 1-day LOS, respectively ( P less than .001 for both). Other significant predictors of readmission included LRYGB surgery, increased postoperative complications, and more comorbidities at initial admission, they said.

Preventing readmissions is not always realistic, the researchers emphasized. “Not all readmissions are avoidable. Not all readmissions represent poor quality care, either,” they said. “The decision to readmit a patient who was recently discharged is often the best option for appropriate care.” They pointed to a recent analysis of Medicare patients that found that low readmission rates after pancreaticoduodenectomy were linked with the highest rates of mortality.

But hospitals that are able to efficiently discharge bariatric surgery patients also might have other attributes that prevent readmissions but were not discernable from the study database, the investigators said. “Patients who are successfully discharged earlier also may be different than those who ultimately stay longer,” they noted. “In addition to prolonged duration of stay, complications, gastric bypass, and increased number of comorbidities also are associated with an increased risk of readmission. Targeted interventions for patients with specific risk factors for readmission may be an effective strategy for reducing readmissions after bariatric surgery.”

The study did not examine care protocols and pathways, which can affect readmission rates, and the database included administrative billing records, which differ from clinical databases when calculating readmissions. “Clinical databases like the National Surgical Quality Improvement Program more accurately capture these data,” said the researchers. “[But] regardless of these shortcomings, we believe that the size of the dataset (nearly 100,000 bariatric surgery patients) provides significant statistical power for evaluating the relationship between duration of stay and readmission rates.” Future analyses of the NSQIP dataset or the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program could further study risk factors and preventive strategies, they noted.

The Medical College of Wisconsin and the National Institutes of Health supported the study. Two coauthors disclosed consulting relationships with the University HealthSystem Consortium and Torax Medical.