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. 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, or entering rehabilitation, for example. Make sure you know who to
contact if you have a question or a problem. 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 ensure 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 attention. It's also expensive, and
often uncomfortable. Being in the hospital also exposes you to the possibility of
infection, particularly 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. After discharge, you’ll
go through a transition of care. That means you will now have a different level of
medical care outside of the hospital. For example, 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 healthcare providers in the hospital as well as your primary healthcare provider.
This is to help ensure that you get the treatment that 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
healthcare 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 can make you
need 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 minimize 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, ask for paper and a pen or pencil. Make 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. Ask to be given printed information about your discharge. You may also
want to ask a family member or friend to be present while you go through the discharge
If you are going home, do you have a ride home from the hospital? You may need to
arrange for extra help at home for a while.
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
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 avoid
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
Days and times 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 to outside healthcare providers
about the care you received in the hospital as well as your current care needs. 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
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, make sure to call with questions. 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. Bring copies
of any tests results. 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. Ask the provider if all the tests
that were done in the hospital have been addressed.
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 ensure a smoother recovery after discharge.
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