Characteristics and clinical outcomes of index versus non-index hospital readmissions in Australian hospitals: a cohort study

Yogesh Sharma, Chris Horwood, Paul Hakendorf, John Au, Campbell Thompson

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Objective Risk factors and clinical outcomes of non-index hospital readmissions (readmissions to a hospital different from the previous admission) have not been studied in Australia. The present study compared characteristics and clinical outcomes between index and non-index hospital readmissions in the Australian healthcare setting.

Methods This retrospective cohort study included medical admissions from 2012 to 2016 across all major public hospitals in South Australia. Readmissions within 30 day to all public hospitals were captured using electronic health information system. In-hospital mortality and readmission length of hospital stay (LOS) were compared, along with 30-day mortality and subsequent readmissions among patients readmitted to index or non-index hospitals.

Results Of 114 105 index admissions, there were 20 539 (18.0%) readmissions. Of these, 17 519 (85.3%) were index readmissions and 3020 (14.7%) were non-index readmissions. Compared with index readmissions, patients in the non-index readmissions group had a lower Charlson comorbidity index, shorter LOS and fewer complications during the index admission and were more likely to be readmitted with a different diagnosis to the index admission. No difference in in-hospital mortality was observed, but readmission LOS was shorter and 30-day mortality was higher among patients with non-index readmissions.

Conclusion A substantial proportion of patients experienced non-index hospital readmissions. Non-index hospital readmitted patients had no immediate adverse outcomes, but experienced worse 30-day outcomes.

What is known about the topic? A significant proportion of unplanned hospital readmissions occur to non-index hospitals. North American studies suggest that non-index hospital readmissions are associated with worse outcomes for patients due to discontinuity of care, medical reconciliation and delayed treatment. Limited studies have determined factors associated with non-index hospital readmissions in Australia, but whether such readmissions lead to adverse clinical outcomes is unknown.

What does this paper add? In the Australian healthcare setting, 14.7% of patients were readmitted to non-index hospitals. Compared with index hospital readmissions, patients admitted to non-index hospitals had a lower Charlson comorbidity index, a shorter index LOS and fewer complications during the index admission. At the time of readmission there was no differences in discharge summary completion rates between the two groups. Unlike other studies, the present study found no immediate adverse outcomes for patients readmitted to non-index hospitals, but 30-day outcomes were worse than for patients who had an index hospital readmission.

What are the implications for practitioners? Non-index hospital readmissions may not be totally preventable due to factors such as ambulance diversions stemming from emergency department overcrowding and prolonged emergency department waiting times. Patients should be advised to re-present to hospital in case they experience recurrence or relapse of a medical condition, and preferably should be readmitted to the same hospital to prevent discontinuity of care.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberAH18040
Pages (from-to)153-159
Number of pages7
JournalAustralian Health Review
Issue number1
Early online date7 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


  • In-Hospital
  • Mortality
  • Length of Hospital Stay
  • readmissions
  • clinical outcomes
  • in-hospital mortality


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