Detecting illness early among nursing home residents not only improves patient health outcomes, but also reduces avoidable hospitalizations and saves the facilities money, according to a new study.

Researchers analyzed six years of financial data for 11 Missouri nursing homes that are part of the Missouri Quality Improvement Initiative, a program that implemented advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) full time into nursing homes throughout the greater St. Louis area.

By reducing avoidable hospitalizations, the nursing homes recaptured more than $32 million in revenue, which helped them retain their staff and allow the residents to remain in the nursing homes while receiving treatment.

“Early illness recognition is key to identifying clinical problems before they become much worse, and the advanced practice registered nurses played a big role in helping the staff make the proper assessments,” says Marilyn Rantz, a professor emerita at the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing. “Whether it’s pneumonia, the flu, or a urinary tract infection, if the care providers are letting patients’ health decline to the point where you have no choice but to transfer them to the hospital, you let the problem go way too long.”

Nearly all clinical signs of an unstable condition can benefit from hydration, and treating patients within the nursing home helps avoid the stress and confusion that often results when older adults are transported to the hospital, Rantz says.

“Keeping the residents moving every day and ensuring they are drinking enough fluids and eating nutritious foods are simple, yet often overlooked strategies that really make a difference,” Rantz says.

“The residents are much more comfortable being cared for in the nursing home where they are familiar with the staff, and our research shows reducing avoidable hospitalizations saves nursing homes millions in the long run.”

In addition to improving the quality of care in nursing homes, Rantz found the implementation of advanced practice registered nurses, who either have a doctoral or master’s degree in nursing, can help improve staff skills in care delivery and reduce staff turnover, which has been an ongoing issue for nursing home administrators, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read the full article about early illness detection by Brian Consiglio at Futurity.