A 75-year-old male with history of diabetes and heart disease is discharged from the hospital after treatment for pneumonia. He has eight medications on his discharge list and is given two new prescriptions at discharge. He has a primary care provider but will not be able to see her until three weeks after discharge. Will a follow-up call decrease potential complications?
Medication errors are prevalent, especially during the transition period from discharge to follow-up with primary care physicians. There are more than 700,000 emergency department (ED) visits each year for adverse drug events with nearly 120,000 of these episodes resulting in hospitalization.1
The likelihood of an adverse drug event increases in patients using more than five medications and when there is a lack of understanding of how and why they are taking certain medications, scenarios common on hospital discharge.2 Studies evaluating effective means to reduce medication errors during transitions out of the hospital offer few solutions. One effective method, however, appears to be follow-up telephone calls.
Telephone calls have been looked at in multiple studies and usually are performed in the studies by nurses, nurse practitioners, or pharmacists and occur within days of discharge from the hospital. These calls offer a mechanism to provide answers to questions about their medical condition or medications.
Review of the Data
There is a wide range of studies evaluating the benefit of a post-discharge telephone call. Unfortunately, most of the data are of low methodological quality with low patient numbers and high risk of bias.3
Much of the data are divided into subgroups of patients, including ED patients, cardiac patients, surgical patients, medicine patients, and other small groups. The end points also vary and examine areas such as patient satisfaction, reduction in medication errors, and effect on readmissions or repeat ED visits. The bulk of studies used a standardized script. These calls lasted only minutes, which could make it user-friendly, especially for a busy hospitalist’s schedule. Unfortunately, the effect of these interventions is mixed.
With ED patients, phone calls have been shown to be an effective means of communication between patients and physicians. In a study of 297 patients, the authors were only able to reach half the patients but still were able to identify medical problems needing referral or further intervention in 37% of the patients contacted.4 Another two studies revealed similar results with approximately 40% of the contacted patients requiring further clarification on their discharge instructions.5,6
Importantly, 95% of these patients felt the call was beneficial. Thus, more than one-third of patients discharged from an ED are likely to have problems and a follow-up telephone call offers an opportunity to intervene on these potential problems. Another ED study evaluated patients older than 75 and found a nurse liaison could effectively assess the complexity of a patient’s questions and appropriately advise them over the phone or triage them to the correct care provider for further care.7