Communicating at discharge

Discharge refers to the processes, tools and techniques by which an episode of treatment and/or care to a patient is formally concluded by a health professional, health service organisation or individual.

Poor communication at discharge is related to increased risks associated with medication management, ongoing care and readmission. There is some evidence that enhancing a patient’s knowledge of their condition and treatment can help to ensure a safe transition at the end of a hospital stay.

Key messages

  • Discharge is a high risk time for patient safety
  • Effective communication and documentation at discharge, between healthcare providers and with patients, families and carers is essential to ensuring safe, high-quality and continuous patient care
  • At the time of discharge, there should be prompt, relevant and accurate communication about the episode of care, including a complete and accurate list of medicines, details of active clinical problems and plans for ongoing management
  • A complete, accurate and legible discharge summary should be provided to the patient (or support person, where appropriate) and other relevant healthcare providers involved in the patient’s care within a short time of the patient leaving the service
  • There is an increase in risks associated with discharge for patients who are elderly or who have diminished literacy.

Communication strategies

Why is it important?

The discharge process is an essential component to ensuring a successful transition of patient care. Clinical communication between healthcare providers, at this point of time, has been identified as a key area for improvement due to fragmentation of health care services. It is also a high risk time for patient safety

Errors in communication during discharge processes can compromise patient safety and quality. Poor communication and transfer of information at discharge has been shown to result in an increasing number of hospital readmissions, with lack of effective communication cited as the primary factor that affects post-discharge care.