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Hospital Discharge

What is hospital discharge?

When you leave a hospital after treatment, you go through a process called hospital discharge. A hospital will discharge you when you no longer need to receive inpatient care and can go home. Or a hospital will discharge you to send you to another type of facility or help you coordinate home care.

Many hospitals have a discharge planner or case manager. This person helps coordinate the information and care you’ll need after you leave. You’ll need to understand your injury or illness. You’ll need to know the next steps to take. This may include taking medicine, caring for a bandage, receiving home care, or entering rehabilitation, for example. Make sure you know who to contact if you have a question or a problem. Some of this care must be set up before you leave the hospital. The discharge planner and your healthcare provider will answer your questions.

After you leave the hospital, you will need to make sure to take care of yourself as instructed. This will help make sure you don’t need to go back into the hospital.

Why might I need hospital discharge?

The hospital will discharge you if you no longer need to be there for your care. But this may not mean that you are fully healed or recovered. You may have a medical condition that still needs attention and care.

Why would a hospital discharge a person who has not fully recovered? Hospital care is for people who need a high level of medical care. It's also expensive, and often uncomfortable. Being in the hospital also exposes you to the possibility of infection, especially if you have a weak immune system. Once a person is getting better and does not need a high level of care, a hospital stay is not needed. When the person is discharged, this makes a bed available to another person who needs a high level of care.

You will still get care after leaving the hospital, if needed. You’ll go through a transition of care after discharge. That means you will now have a different level of medical care outside of the hospital. For instance, you may go to a skilled nursing facility if you need some level of further care and are not yet ready to go home. If you need physical rehabilitation, you will go to a rehab facility. In these places, healthcare providers will oversee your continuing care. They will keep in touch with the providers in the hospital as well as your primary healthcare provider. This is to help make sure you get the treatment you need.

Or you may transition to home care. For this, you or a family member will work with your healthcare providers to manage your care at home. A home care agency may send providers to your home to check in with your progress.

No matter where you go after discharge, you’ll need to follow all the instructions from your healthcare providers. This will help prevent problems that make it necessary for you to go back to the hospital.

What are the risks of hospital discharge?

The main risk is that the hospital may discharge you before you are medically ready. If this happens, you may end up back in the hospital. Your healthcare team will discharge you if they believe there is only a small chance that this may happen. Carefully following your healthcare provider’s instructions can help to reduce this risk. There is also the risk that you may be confused with some of the changes made in the hospital. You may not start a new medicine or possibly stop an old medicine that you have been taking for a long time. Following the suggestions below can lower this risk.

How do I get ready for hospital discharge?

Before you start the discharge process, write a list of all of your questions. Be prepared to take notes. Make sure your questions are answered. If English is not your first language, you can ask for language help during the process. Have the providers explain your condition in plain terms you can understand. You are usually given printed information and instructions about your discharge. You may also want to ask a family member or friend to be with you while you go through the discharge process.

If you are going home, do you have a ride home from the hospital? You may need medical equipment (for instance, a hospital bed). Have arrangements been made for its delivery? You may need to arrange for extra help at home for a while. The hospital's social worker or care manager should set this up for you before you are discharged.

What happens during hospital discharge?

During the discharge process, members of your healthcare team will provide you with the information you need to make this transition successfully. Your medical team should discuss all of the following with you:

  • Your medical condition at the time of discharge

  • What kinds of follow-up care you will need, such as physical therapy

  • What medicines you need to take, including why, when, and how to take them, and possible side effects to watch for. You may be given a written prescription or have it called in to the pharmacy for you.

  • How to dispose of medicines you no longer need to take

  • What medical equipment you will need, and how to get it

  • When and how you will receive test results

  • Instructions on food and drink, exercise, and activities to stay away from

  • What you can expect at your new facility, if you’re not going home

  • Phone numbers to call if you have a question or problem

  • Instructions about when you should call with any health issues

  • Days, times, and addresses of your follow-up appointments, or information about how to make appointments

If your discharge process does not include some of these, make sure to ask. It’s important to get all of your questions and concerns answered.

Make sure to ask the hospital when they will communicate with outside healthcare providers. For instance, when will they send medical records to outside providers about the care you received in the hospital? Or about your current care needs? Many hospitals use electronic medical records to communicate with other facilities. Ask if your discharge hospital is networked with your primary care provider. Make sure the outside healthcare providers get this information before your first follow-up appointment. Without this information, they will not be able to give you the care you need.

If you are getting Medicare services from a hospital and you have questions about your discharge, you can reach out to Medicare for help. Go to for more information.

What happens after hospital discharge?

After a hospital discharge, you’ll need to carefully follow all of the instructions from your healthcare provider. If you have a question about your follow-up care, call to ask. If you’re concerned about problems, call with questions and write down the answers. This can help prevent problems from getting worse.

Make sure to keep all of your follow-up appointments. When you go to an appointment, be ready to tell your healthcare provider how you have been feeling and any concerns you may have. Bring copies of any tests results given to you. Ask questions about any part of your recovery or care. You may have been given important instructions to follow, such as weighing yourself daily, or doing certain exercises to speed your recovery. Confirm with the provider that they have received all the necessary information and all the tests and test results that were done in the hospital.

Let family members or friends be a part of your recovery after discharge. They may be able to pick up medicines or take you to appointments. They may remember things that you forget about symptoms, problems, or questions you want to ask. This can help you make sure of a smoother recovery after discharge.

Next Steps

Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure

  • The reason you are having the test or procedure

  • What results to expect and what they mean

  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure

  • What the possible side effects or complications are

  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure

  • Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are

  • What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure

  • Any alternative tests or procedures to think about

  • When and how you will get the results

  • Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems

  • How much you will have to pay for the test or procedure

Medical Reviewers:

  • L Renee Watson MSN RN
  • Marianne Fraser MSN RN
  • Rita Sather RN