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A randomised controlled trial to prevent hospital readmissions and loss of functional ability in high risk older adults: a study protocol

Mary D Courtney12, Helen E Edwards23, Anne M Chang234, Anthony W Parker35, Kathleen Finlayson23* and Kyra Hamilton23

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Health and Social Development, University of British Columbia, Okanagan, Canada

2 School of Nursing and Midwifery, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia

3 Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia

4 Mater Health Services, Brisbane, Australia

5 School of Human Movement Studies, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia

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BMC Health Services Research 2011, 11:202  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-11-202

Published: 23 August 2011



Older people have higher rates of hospital admission than the general population and higher rates of readmission due to complications and falls. During hospitalisation, older people experience significant functional decline which impairs their future independence and quality of life. Acute hospital services comprise the largest section of health expenditure in Australia and prevention or delay of disease is known to produce more effective use of services. Current models of discharge planning and follow-up care, however, do not address the need to prevent deconditioning or functional decline. This paper describes the protocol of a randomised controlled trial which aims to evaluate innovative transitional care strategies to reduce unplanned readmissions and improve functional status, independence, and psycho-social well-being of community-based older people at risk of readmission.


The study is a randomised controlled trial. Within 72 hours of hospital admission, a sample of older adults fitting the inclusion/exclusion criteria (aged 65 years and over, admitted with a medical diagnosis, able to walk independently for 3 meters, and at least one risk factor for readmission) are randomised into one of four groups: 1) the usual care control group, 2) the exercise and in-home/telephone follow-up intervention group, 3) the exercise only intervention group, or 4) the in-home/telephone follow-up only intervention group. The usual care control group receive usual discharge planning provided by the health service. In addition to usual care, the exercise and in-home/telephone follow-up intervention group receive an intervention consisting of a tailored exercise program, in-home visit and 24 week telephone follow-up by a gerontic nurse. The exercise only and in-home/telephone follow-up only intervention groups, in addition to usual care receive only the exercise or gerontic nurse components of the intervention respectively. Data collection is undertaken at baseline within 72 hours of hospital admission, 4 weeks following hospital discharge, 12 weeks following hospital discharge, and 24 weeks following hospital discharge. Outcome assessors are blinded to group allocation. Primary outcomes are emergency hospital readmissions and health service use, functional status, psychosocial well-being and cost effectiveness.


The acute hospital sector comprises the largest component of health care system expenditure in developed countries, and older adults are the most frequent consumers. There are few trials to demonstrate effective models of transitional care to prevent emergency readmissions, loss of functional ability and independence in this population following an acute hospital admission. This study aims to address that gap and provide information for future health service planning which meets client needs and lowers the use of acute care services.

Trial Registration No

Australian & New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry ACTRN12608000202369

Older adults; discharge planning; in-home follow-up; telephone follow-up; exercise; randomised control trial