FPs Lower Hospital Readmission Rates and Costs

One Pagers | May 01, 2011 Veerappa K. Chetty, PhD; Larry Culpepper, MD, MPH; Robert L. Phillips, Jr., MD, MSPH; Jennifer Rankin, PhD, MPH, MS, MHA; Imam Xierali, PhD; Sean Finnegan, BS; and Brian Jack, MD

Hospital readmission after discharge is often a costly failing of the U.S. health care system to adequately manage patients who are ill. Increasing the number of family physicians (FPs) is associated with significant reductions in hospital readmissions and substantial cost savings.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) seeks to improve health care quality and reduce costs. One provision targets a decrease in hospital readmissions to save $710 million annually.1 Timely management of recovering patients in primary care after discharge may reduce readmission. The Medicare Hospital Compare Database includes readmission rates for pneumonia, heart attack, and heart failure for 4,459 hospitals.2 The Area Resource File contains data for physicians per population at the county level.3 Data show that 30-day readmission rates for these diagnoses decrease as the number of FPs increases. Conversely, increased numbers of physicians in all other major specialties (including general internal medicine) is associated with increased risk of readmission. 

Combined, readmissions for pneumonia, heart attack, and heart failure in 2005 accounted for 15.7 percent of all readmissions and numbered 74,419; 20,866; and 90,273, respectively (see accompanying figure2,3). Corresponding Medicare expenditures were $533 million, $136 million, and $590 million, respectively.4 Adding one FP per 1,000 population, or 100 per 100,000 (adjusted for mortality, sociodemographics, and hospital characteristics), reduces readmission odds for these three conditions by 7 percent, 5 percent, and 8 percent, respectively. An estimated 46 FPs per 100,000 population, recommended by one workforce study, could reduce readmission costs by $81 million per year; furthermore, 100 FPs per 100,000 population could reduce costs by $579 million per year, or 83 percent of the PPACA target.5

Figure. Effect of FP Density on Readmission Rates

Figure: Actual and estimated 30-day hospital readmission rates in 2005 per county density of family physicians (FPs). (A) Actual readmissions in 2005. (B) Estimated readmissions with 46 FPs per 100,000 population. (C) Estimated readmissions with 100 FPs per 100,000 population. Information from references 2 and 3.

Wider experience of the associated effects of FPs on readmission rates could help realize much of the savings sought by the PPACA. Production of FPs fell over the past decade because of payment disparities and other strong incentives for subspecialization, and lack of accountability in U.S. teaching hospitals for producing needed FPs.6 


  1. Association of American Medical Colleges. Table: policy, AAMC priorities. http://www.aamc.org/download/131014/data/040210.pdf.pdf. Accessed October 1, 2010.
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Medicare Hospital Compare Database. http://www.hospitalcompare.hhs.gov. Accessed July 3, 2010.
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resource and Services Administration. Area Resource File. http://arf.hrsa.gov. Accessed July 3, 2010.
  4. Medicare Payment Advisory Commission. Report to the Congress: promoting greater efficiency in Medicare. June 2007. http://www.medpac.gov/documents/Jun07_entirereport.pdf. Accessed July 3, 2010.
  5. Family physician workforce reform: recommendations of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP reprint No. 305b). http://www.aafp.org/online/en/home/policy/policies/w/workforce.html. Accessed August 1, 2010.
  6. Weida NA, Phillips RL Jr, Bazemore AW. Does graduate medical education also follow green? Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(4):389–90.

The information and opinions contained in research from the Graham Center do not necessarily reflect the views or the policy of the AAFP. 

Published in American Family Physician, May 1, 2011. Am Fam Physician. 2011;83(9):1054. This series is coordinated by Sumi Sexton, MD, AFP Associate Medical Editor.