Patient Understanding of ED Discharge Instructions Is Poor


Clinical question: How well do patients understand discharge instructions regarding post-ED care?

Background: Studies have demonstrated that patients discharged from the ED often lack appropriate understanding of their care. Knowledge deficits are particularly common in the area of post-ED care; however, it is not clear in which aspects of post-ED care these knowledge deficits are most pronounced.

Study design: Prospective cohort study.

Setting: Single-center academic urban hospital.

Synopsis: The researchers in this study discharged patients from the ED with five common diagnoses: ankle sprain, back pain, head injury, kidney stone, and laceration. Interviewers used formalized questioning to assess patient comprehension in five specific areas of post-ED care: diagnosis, medication, follow-up care, home care, and return instructions. Rates of severe knowledge deficits were most pronounced in the domains of home care (40.1%) and return instructions (50.7%). Rates of severe knowledge deficits in the domains of diagnosis, medication, and follow-up care were 3.2%, 3.2%, and 18.4%, respectively.

Though performed in the ED, the results of this study could inform the approach to inpatient discharges. However, the exclusion of patients with psychiatric disease, cognitive impairment, and multiple diagnoses suggests that the results might be even worse in a complicated inpatient cohort. The study also indicates that discharge instructions for home care and return precautions merit closer attention.

Bottom line: Patients discharged from the ED demonstrate poor comprehension of discharge instructions regarding post-ED care.

Citation: Engel KG, Buckley BA, Forth VE, et al. Patient understanding of emergency department discharge instructions: where are knowledge deficits greatest? Acad Emerg Med. 2012;19:1035-1044.

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