Background Hospital readmissions is an increasingly serious international problem, associated with higher risks of adverse events, especially in elderly patients. There can be many causes and influential factors leading to hospital readmissions, but they are often closely related, making hospital readmissions an overall complex area. In addition, a comprehensive coordination reform was introduced into the Norwegian healthcare system in 2012. The reform changed the premises for readmissions with economic incentives enhancing early transfer from secondary to primary care, making research on readmissions in the municipalities more urgent than ever. General practitioners (GPs) and nursing home physicians, have traditionally held a gatekeepers function in hospital readmissions from the municipal healthcare service, as they are the main decision-makers in questions of hospital readmissions. Still, the GPs’ gatekeeper function is an under-investigated area in hospital readmission research. The aim of the study was to increase knowledge about factors that lead to hospital readmissions among elderly in municipal healthcare, with special attention to GPs’ and nursing home physicians’ decision making. Method The study was conducted as a comparative case study. Two municipalities affiliated with the same hospital, but with different readmission rates were recruited. Twenty GPs and nursing home physicians from each municipality were recruited and interviewed. Forty hours of observation were conducted during the huddles in one long-term and one short-term nursing home in each municipality. Results Seven themes describing how different factors influence physicians’ decision-making in the hospital readmission process in two municipalities were identified. Poor communication, continuity and information flow account for hospital readmissions in both municipalities. Several factors, including nurse staffing and competence, patients and their families, time constraints and experience affected physicians’ decision-making. Conclusion Communication, continuity and information flow contributed to hospital readmissions in both municipalities. The cross-case analysis revealed slight differences between municipalities. More research focusing on GPs’ and nursing home physicians’ decision-making, nursing home nurses and home care nurses’ experience of hospital readmissions and discharges is needed.
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