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Not all rehabilitation is equal for acute care hospital patients with ischemic stroke, say researchers in an article published in the May issue of PTJ (Physical Therapy). Authors found “significant variation” in the use of hospital-based rehabilitation services that “suggest a timely opportunity to standardize rehabilitation service delivery in acute settings for patients with ischemic stroke.”

While current guidelines recommend early mobilization during hospitalization for ischemic stroke, authors write, they do not “provide clear recommendations on the optimal dosage of therapy.” This, combined with no incentive for hospitals to report on functional status to the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), led researchers to examine Medicare claims data from 104,295 patients in 2010 to identify what factors were associated with the type and amount of rehabilitation services patients received while in acute care settings.

Overall, authors found that only 85.2% received any rehabilitation services: 61.5% received both physical and occupational therapy; 22% received only physical therapy; and 1.7% received only occupational therapy.

Patients were more likely to receive any type of rehabilitation services if they were older than 70 years of age, had longer lengths of stay, or had received tissue plasminogen activator (tPA).

However, patients were 16% less likely to receive rehabilitation services if they were dual-eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, and 11% less likely if they had a recent prior history of hospitalization. Men also were less likely to receive therapy, and patients with more severe stroke—who required an ICU stay or feeding tube—were significantly less likely to receive rehabilitation services.

There also was variation in the number of minutes of therapy patients received. While patients received an average of 123 minutes of therapy over 4.8 days, authors write, “dual-eligible patients received 5 minutes less therapy compared with non–dual-eligible patients, and patients receiving tPA received 16 more minutes of therapy.” Patients with a feeding tube received 5 more minutes of therapy than those without, on average.

In addition, certain hospital characteristics played a role: Rural hospitals, hospitals with a higher volume of patients with stroke, and hospitals with an inpatient rehabilitation unit were linked to a higher likelihood of receiving rehabilitation services. Patients who received rehabilitation services in a limited teaching hospital or nonteaching hospital received an average 19 and 20 more minutes of therapy, respectively.

Authors found substantial variability in use of rehabilitation services across acute care hospitals, even after accounting for length of stay and other patient and hospital-level factors. Approximately 38% of hospitals provided significantly less (76.3 minutes during the whole length of stay) than the national average of rehabilitation services minutes (123 minutes), whereas 22.4% provided significantly more (180.7 minutes) than the national average. Authors suggest a number of factors contributing to this variation, including a “lack of clear guidance on rehabilitation timing and dosage in the acute care setting” and a hospital reimbursement structure that encourages cost savings by decreasing length of stay and rehabilitation services.

However, hospitals with inpatient rehabilitation units were more likely to deliver rehabilitation services to these patients, possibly because they are specialized in providing comprehensive care, and therapists “can be proponents of providing upstream rehabilitation interventions to improve downstream outcomes.”


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