"The hospitals argue, why is it their bother?" Bonow said. "They take care of the patients in the hospitals and then hand them off."
The new study "puts the issue more in the hospitals' court," Bonow said. "It argues for the creation of some sort of system leading to patients getting appointments with doctors."
But it needn't be a doctor who schedules the follow-up visit, Bonow said. He acknowledged that he usually is too busy to make that visit. "What we do here many times is to have a visiting nurse go home with the patient," Bonow said. "A visiting nurse seeing the patient may be as effective as seeing a doctor."
Hospitals should also have "a safety net" that would schedule a visit to a discharged patient if one is not done soon after the hospital stay, Hernandez said.
And people who are leaving the hospital should be sure to ask whether an appointment has been made for a visit by a health-care provider, he said.
The study did find reduced mortality in cases where follow-up visits were done after hospital discharge, Hernandez said. The rate was lower when the visit was made by a cardiologist, but the number of visits was small, "so it is difficult to interpret," he said.
To learn about heart failure, visit the American Heart Association.
SOURCES: Adrian F. Hernandez, M.D., assistant professor, medicine, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, N.C.; Robert O. Bonow, chief, division of cardiology, and Goldberg Distinguished Professor, Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago; May 5, 2010, Journal of the American Medical Association
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