I continue to believe that hospitalists should routinely provide patients a copy of their discharge summary. I made the case for this in a 2006 column (“Keeping Patients in the Loop,” October 2006, p. 74), but I don’t see the idea catching on. I bet this simple act would have all kinds of benefits, including at least modest reductions in overall health-care expenditures and readmissions.
The whole dynamic of this issue seems to be changing as a result of “patient portals” allowing direct access to review test results and, in some cases, physician documentation. Typically, these are integrated with or at least connected to an electronic health record (EHR) and allow a patient, and those provided access (e.g. the password) by the patient, to review records. My own PCP provides access to a portal that I’ve found very useful, but I think, like most others, it doesn’t provide access to physician notes.
So there still is a case to be made for hospitalists (and all specialties) to provide copies of the discharge summary directly to patients and perhaps other forms of documentation as well.
I think all discharge summaries should be completed before the patient leaves the hospital and amended as needed to capture any last-minute changes and details. The act of generating the summary often leads the discharging doctor to notice, and have a chance to address, important details that may have dropped off the daily problem list. Things like the need to recheck a lab test to ensure normalization prior to discharge, or make arrangements for outpatient colonoscopy to pursue the heme-positive stool found on admission, have sometimes slipped off the radar during the hospital stay and can be caught when preparing discharge summary.
Preparing a discharge summary the night before anticipated discharge can have many advantages, including improving early discharge times the next morning. And it means the doctor can prepare the summary late in the day after routine rounding is finished and interruptions are less likely. Although I think quality of care is enhanced by generating the summary the night before (and amending it as needed), I worked with a hospital that was cited by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) for doing this and was told they can’t be done prior to the calendar day of discharge.
Creation of the discharge summary isn’t the only relevant step. It should be transcribed on a stat basis (e.g. within two to four hours) and pushed to the PCP and other treating physicians. It isn’t enough that the document is available to the PCP via an EHR; these doctors need some sort of notice, such as an email.
To take advantage of the new “transitional-care management” codes (99495 and 99496), PCPs must make telephone contact with patients within two days of discharge and must have a face-to-face visit within one or two weeks of discharge (depending on whether the patient is high- or moderate-risk). Making the summary available to the PCP quickly can be crucial in ensuring these phone calls and visits are meaningful. (For an excellent review of the TCM codes, see Dr. Lauren Doctoroff’s article “New Codes Bridge Hospitals’ Post-Discharge Billing Gap” in the February 2013 issue of The Hospitalist.)
So I think both patients and other treating physicians should get the discharge summary on the day of discharge or no more than a day or two after. I bet this improves quality of care and readmissions, but one study found no association, and another found a trend toward reduced readmissions that did not reach statistical significance.1,2