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Dangers in Being Discharged from the Hospital (Part II)

In a previous post, reference was made to a New York Times article that reported the discharge stage of a hospital patient’s care – when the patient is being released from the hospital and transferred back to the care of the patient’s primary care physician – as one of the most dangerous times for the patient. During this period of time, the patient’s health faces significant risks and dangers.

Dangers in Being Discharged

Some of the specific threats to a patient’s health during the discharge process include:

  • Being discharged too early: Despite a patient’s protests or desires, a patient’s treatment team and the hospital must make an independent determination about when it is appropriate to discharge the patient. This determination is not supposed to be motivated by concerns of over payment or what treatment his or insurance will pay for, but instead by what is best for the patient’s health and well-being. When a patient is discharged too early, the risk of further injury or illness runs high.
  • Not explaining instructions clearly: Before discharge, the patient is supposed to be informed of the steps he or she needs to take once he or she is discharged. In almost every case, these instructions will include (at the very minimum) taking one or more prescription medications and making a follow-up appointment with his or her primary care physician within a certain period of time. When these instructions are not communicated clearly the patient and/or his or her caregiver may become confused and fail to follow these instructions, resulting in harm to the patient.
  • Failing to properly prepare discharge summaries: A discharge summary is meant to provide important information to the patient, his or her caregiver, and his or her primary care physician about what care the patient received at the hospital and what follow-up care might be necessary. Discharge summaries that are well-prepared and transmitted to the patient’s primary care physician ahead of the patient’s follow-up visit can be very useful in helping the primary care physician “pick up” the patient’s care where the hospital left off. In some cases, however, the primary care physician may not receive a copy of the discharge summary. Or the discharge summary may not contain all the relevant information needed by the primary care physician in order to provide adequate care to the patient. In either case, the patient can suffer adverse consequences if he or she does not receive adequate follow-up care.

What Can Patients Do Before and After Discharge?

Patients who are being discharged from a hospital should insist that their doctors and nurses clearly explain any discharge instructions, including when they should follow up with their primary care physicians. Make and keep a follow-up appointment with your primary care doctor as directed. Take all prescribed medications and report any adverse effects to your doctor immediately. In so doing, patients can reduce some of the dangers associated with being discharged from the hospital.

Bertram & Amell is a Washington, D.C. hospital malpractice law firm that helps patients and their families recover compensation for acts of medical malpractice. Contact the firm to discuss your medical malpractice case. Call (888) 991-5245 or contact the firm online for professional, compassionate assistance with your case.

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