Most hospitals work hard to increase the portion of discharges that occur early in the workday and decrease the number that occur in the afternoon or evening. In every case, hospitalists have an important role in making this happen.
In my April 2009 column (“Top O’ the Morning,” p. 53), I wrote about why this is important to hospitals and which strategies hospitalists could adopt. But this is still such a big issue for hospitalists that I thought I would elaborate on a few of the really simple ideas. Your HM group could implement most of the following strategies beginning next week, and you wouldn’t need months of meetings with other hospital departments.
But before I get to the ideas, I want to mention a couple of other things. First, I can’t resist pointing out that giving hospitalists a financial incentive for writing the majority of discharge orders by a certain time in the morning has met with mixed results, despite the fact that some institutions believe this approach is valuable. In the absence of computerized physician order entry (CPOE), it can be really difficult to track exactly when the doctor wrote the discharge order. And, more importantly, a financial incentive might discourage a hospitalist from discharging a patient this afternoon, and they might instead wait to discharge tomorrow morning—adding to length of stay and defeating the goal of the incentive.
It turns out that a lot has been written about throughput; just do an Internet search and pair “throughput” with terms like “hospital,” “hospitalist,” “ED,” etc. Remarkably, I haven’t been able to dig up much material that specifically addresses early-morning discharges, which is an important component of throughput.
Let’s turn our attention to some specific recommendations for increasing morning discharges. Remember, I’ve selected these because they’re easy to implement and won’t require HM groups to negotiate with others at the hospital.
Write “Probable Discharge Tomorrow” Orders
Letting other staff know the anticipated discharge date via an order in the chart typically is more effective than writing the same information in the progress note section of the chart. Although a hospitalist should verbally communicate the anticipated discharge date with the patient’s nurse and discharge planner, it still is worthwhile to write an order, because it increases the chance all, or nearly all, staff (e.g., night nurses) will be aware of the plan and communicate the same message to the family.
Your group could establish a rule or financial incentive, such that all charts will be reviewed after discharge, and a certain portion (e.g., 85%) must have such an order written sometime prior to discharge. It doesn’t always need to be written on the day prior to discharge; instead, an order written on Monday could say “likely discharge on Wednesday or Thursday.” And, of course, there shouldn’t be a requirement that the patient actually be discharged on the day that was forecast.
Prepare the Day Prior
Typically, hospitalized-patient discharges are very time-consuming. Most discharges are complicated by last-minute medical or social loose ends that require attention. Routinely trying to uncover and address these on the evening prior to discharge will ensure that a larger percentage of patients will be discharged—and vacate their room—earlier the next day. Here is what this might look like: