An alarming amount of lupus patients discharged from the hospitals are readmitted within a month. Minority populations make up a disproportionate amount of the numbers, according to a recent study.

Recognition of these unmistakable readmission discrepancies is only the first step toward the eventual goal of reducing hospital readmission rates. The study was carried out by Dr. Jinoos Yazdany and her colleagues from the University of California, San Francisco. The team looked over the admission rates in five states over the course a year, Med Page Today reported.

Results showed that of the 31,903 lupus hospitalizations documented, one in six (16.5 percent) required readmission within a month, Medpage today reported. Upon closer examination, researchers found that the readmission rates for blacks and Hispanics were consistently higher than the rates for whites, suggesting that the problem may have a social factor. Also it was found that the majority of hospital readmission was higher among those younger than 65 (82.6 percent), females (89.2 percent), and minorities (54.9 percent). Sixty-three percent of readmissions had public health insurance, as opposed to private health care. The study’s authors wrote that their findings “add to a growing literature revealing striking disparities in SLE; racial/ethnic minorities and those with low socioeconomic status have a higher prevalence of the disease, significantly greater disease-related organ damage, and higher mortality."

High readmission rates are such a serious problem in American hospitals that the federal government has taken to issuing fines of up to $1 million to hospitals with the highest rates, Kaiser Health News reported. According to Dr. Karen Joynt, a Boston cardiologist and Harvard researchers who spoke with the news publication, the medical community is only just coming to understand the complexity of the situation. As for solving the problem? "It's going to take creativity and innovation and most importantly reaching outside the hospital walls," Joynt explained.

Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when your immune system attacks your own tissues and organs. The most common results of this are inflammation, swelling, and damage to the joints, skin, kidneys, heart, and the lungs. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, 1.5 to two million Americans live with some form of lupus. The rate is considerably higher among blacks, with about 200 cases per 100,000 persons diagnosed with the disease, in comparison to 40 cases per 100,000 persons among those of Northern European backgrounds, Medical News Today reported.

Part of the solution to the problem of lupus readmission is addressing the severity of the issue. "Identifying both risk factors associated with early readmission and variation in readmission rates for SLE could potentially inform efforts to improve the quality of care during initial hospitalizations as well as during ambulatory care transitions," Yazdany observed.

The researchers hope that their study will be used to help coordinate health care transitions and specialty care follow-ups to best help lupus patients avoid repeat hospital visits. However, before programs are developed to help reduce the lupus readmission rates, Yazdany and her team agreed that further work is needed. 

Source: Yazdany J, Marafino BJ, Dean ML, et al. Thirty-day hospital readmissions in systemic lupus erythematosus: Predictors and hospital and state-level variation. Arthritis & Rheumatology. 2014.