Discharge planning is a process that aims to improve the coordination of services after discharge from hospital by considering the patient’s needs in the community. It seeks to bridge the gap between hospital and the place to which the patient is discharged, reduce length of stay in hospital, and minimise unplanned readmission to hospital.1
Discharge planning is an established part of hospital care, but the process varies and is not entirely evidenced based. A Cochrane review analysed 11 randomised controlled trials looking at discharge planning in over 5000 patients and failed to show a reduction in mortality among elderly medical patients, lower readmission rates, or a shorter length of hospital stay.1 However, two trials in the review did report greater satisfaction of patients and carers when discharge planning was used.2 3 The Cochrane review concluded that discharge planning remains important as a small improvement, not detected by the studies performed so far, could still yield highly significant gains in health care with huge resource implications and better use of acute hospital beds.1 Unfortunately, none of the included trials assessed communication with primary care staff about patient transfer of care. This is an important aspect of discharge planning and another potentially important advantage for patients.
On a patient’s initial contact with health services, discharge planning should be started.4 This is often difficult to achieve when acutely unwell patients are admitted as a thorough social history may not be immediately available without a collateral history from a relative or primary healthcare provider (who may be difficult to contact). Taking a comprehensive social history is often thought to be time consuming but can be obtained quickly through the use of systematic open questions (see the four scenario boxes).
Effective discharge planning requires multidisciplinary team working. This can be difficult to