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Dangers in Being Discharged from the Hospital (Part I)

When a patient is discharged from the hospital, it would make sense that their condition has improved.  However, According to a recent article in The New York Times,  this period of the patient’s hospital stay – the period leading up to and just following discharge – can be one of the most dangerous times in the patient’s entire stay.

What Happens During Discharge

As anyone who has been admitted to a hospital can attest, patients at hospitals are (or at least should be) under the watchful eye of their treatment team, which consists of nurses and a treating physician. Every aspect of the patient’s care can be monitored and adjusted:

  • The patient’s vital statistics can be constantly monitored, and any changes in these can be immediately addressed;
  • Patients who develop new symptoms can be evaluated right away; and
  • Medications that do not appear to be working or that appear to be producing undesirable side effects can be adjusted or stopped altogether.

As the patient gets better, the patient typically wants to be discharged as soon as possible. A patient who is well but who remains in the hospital is a patient who is taking up a bed that could be used by another injured or ill patient in need of more intensive treatment. As a result, doctors and hospitals are under a great deal of pressure to discharge patients as soon as it is safe to do so.

When discharging a patient, most hospitals go through similar procedures:

  • First, the doctor and treatment team make a determination that it would be safe for the patient to be discharged. A doctor who discharges a patient too early may be committing medical malpractice in certain cases;
  • Next, the treatment team or a member thereof will typically meet with the patient to explain the discharge process and give the patient instructions. These instructions can include temporary dietary restrictions, medication instructions, and will almost always include directions to follow-up with his or her primary care physician shortly after discharge;
  • The treatment team will ensure that the patient’s discharge summary – a detailed collection of the patient’s medical records that would assist the primary care physician in following up with the patient – is prepared and a copy delivered to the patient;
  • If necessary, the doctor will write prescriptions for the patient and have these prescriptions filled by a local pharmacy;
  • The patient is then released from the hospital.

Any missteps along the way, or a decision to discharge a patient that is not made after careful consideration of the risks discharge presents to the patient may be injurious to the patient and result in legal liability.

The Washington, D.C.-based law firm of Bertram & Amell represents patients injured by unreasonable or careless medical acts and decisions, including decisions to discharge a patient too early. Contact us for assistance by calling (888) 991-5245 or by using our online form.

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