Did you know that more than a third of patients leaving the hospital ignore their discharge instructions and don’t seek the follow up care they need?

Ok, maybe ignore is too strong a word. Maybe the instructions were very rushed. Maybe the patient didn’t understand he was supposed to go get some more lab work or follow up with his specialist. Regardless of the reason, not following your discharge instructions can create big problems for you down the road possibly causing a re-admission to the hospital.

According to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality 4.4 million hospital re-admissions could potentially be prevented if patients followed the instructions. Don’t be one of them. Often times the instructions take the form of a pre-printed pamphlet or computer generated sheets of paper. One size does not fit all. Take the time to listen to or read the discharge information before you leave the hospital. If you don’t understand something, ask your doctor or nurse.

Hospital stays are shorter now and patients may still be weak or disoriented when they are discharged, especially the elderly. If you are a caregiver, make sure you understand next steps.

Some hospitals are now starting to call patients after a stay to make sure they are following their discharge orders. While that may seem like a nice thing to do, hospitals are actually being proactive for when Medicare reduces how much it will pay for preventable re-admissions.

Along the lines of discharge instructions is your discharge summary. As with many of your important medical records, it is always a good idea to get a copy of your discharge summary if you've been hospitalized.  Your discharge summary is the history of your hospitalization–from admission to discharge and will include diagnostic studies, procedures, or surgeries that were done and their results, consultation notes from specialists who may have been asked to see you, as well as how you are on discharge and where that discharge will be to.

Don't be surprised, though, if you ask for your discharge summary before you leave and it's not ready.  After all, you haven't left yet and it will take time for the physician to write the summary.  Recently, we were working with a patient who was discharged on the 16th of the month and on the 7th of the next month, we officially requested a copy of her discharge summary through the Medical Records Department. (Some hospitals call it Medical Information, Health Information, so when you call, just explain to the operator what you're looking for).  The staff at the Medical Records department at the hospital told us that it "wasn't ready yet."  Seems like a long time but stay with it.  It's an important piece of information to have in your files.