Healthcare News & Insights

Strategies to improve discharge summaries

If patients receive enough information during the discharge process, it increases their chances of having a smooth recovery. But many hospitals fail to provide adequate discharge summaries to patients, which can affect the care they receive once they leave the hospital. 

Research from the Yale University School of Medicine showed that patients had better outcomes after hospital stays, including fewer 30-day readmissions, if providers created a detailed discharge summary that could be passed along to other doctors who they visited for follow-up care.

Three elements helped providers create the most effective discharge summaries:

  1. Timeliness. Faster is better when preparing patients’ discharge summaries.
  2. Transmission. Sending discharge summaries directly to patients’ doctors got the best results.
  3. Content. It’s essential for summaries to contain key information, such as the patient’s condition at discharge, pending tests that must be completed, or recommendations for further treatment.

Capture details with EHRs

Hospitals can use their electronic health records (EHR) systems to streamline the process of creating a discharge summary. EHRs are helpful because they can quickly send information about a patient’s hospital stay to a primary care provider. This gives the provider a more complete picture of the patient’s condition at discharge, which can help with delivering more effective follow-up care.

Many EHRs give providers the ability to create templates. Making a “discharge template” that clinicians can use to capture the information required on patients’ discharge summaries can be helpful. Clinical staff can fill in any relevant details throughout the person’s hospital stay. This keeps all the required information in one place, so it won’t be missed on the summary.

Ask your EHR vendor if it’s possible to create these templates in your system.

If your hospital’s EHR system can’t send this information directly to a primary care physician’s EHR, be sure to fax the discharge summary to the office right away – or see if it can be securely emailed.

Getting started

Hospitals should start preparing for patients’ discharge right when they’re first admitted to the facility. This ensures that the final discharge summary is complete, as well as useful and relevant to patients, so they’ll have a smoother transition after discharge.

The following guidelines from the American Hospital Association (AHA) can help your hospital shore up any weak spots in its discharge process:

  1. Consider each patient’s individual needs before deciding whether patients should be discharged to their homes or facilities with additional assistance for their recovery (e.g., skilled nursing facilities).
  2. Make sure the medical judgment of doctors, nurses and clinical staff guides all decisions.
  3. Use every resource at your disposal (such as your EHR) to reduce the administrative work involved in discharge planning.
  4. During the hospital stay, clinical staff must communicate openly with patients and their families so they’ll be aware of the best choices they can make to improve recovery post-discharge.

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