Improving our approach to discharge planning


Editor’s note: The Society of Hospital Medicine’s (SHM’s) Physician in Training Committee launched a scholarship program in 2015 for medical students to help transform health care and revolutionize patient care. The program has been expanded for the 2017-2018 year, offering two options for students to receive funding and engage in scholarly work during their first, second, and third years of medical school. As a part of the longitudinal (18-month) program, recipients are required to write about their experience on a monthly basis.

Since finishing up the initial planning phase of our project, my mentors and I have continued with even more planning as we head into the fall. Coming up with a good plan is the first step in making sure everything goes smoothly later on in a project. The same goes for coming up with a well-thought-out discharge plan when sending a patient to the next level of care.

Ms. Monisha Bhatia

As we prepare to pull and clean data for my own project on creating a validated tool to predict discharge destination, I have had the opportunity to do more investigation into the significance and scope of discharge planning as an important issue in hospital medicine.

Getting a patient out of the hospital and into their next destination – whether it’s a long-term acute care facility, skilled nursing facility, inpatient rehabilitation, home, or elsewhere – can approach the same level of complexity as the medical care received in the hospital. Getting a patient to any post-acute care facility can be time-consuming because it involves the coordination of two health care entities and their employees.

Discharge planning for post-acute care placement can take many forms and involve many resources. Some studies have shown that certain discharge planning interventions can reduce costs and 30-day readmissions. Many physicians think that discharge planning would help improve outcomes in most groups, but so far the aggregate data do not show that discharge planning account for much improvement in any of these outcomes. Targeting certain groups of hospitalized patients, however, could improve the effect that discharge planning has on these outcomes because more of these scarce resources might be devoted to the right patients earlier in their hospital stays.

A post-acute care placement prediction tool would help hospitalists determine how to allocate their discharge planning resources, including social work, case management, pharmacies, physical therapy, and occupational therapy. While we are working towards integrating this kind of tool in our own institution’s practice, we are also hopeful that we can create a generalizable tool that assists in helping care teams decide how to link patients to the right resources elsewhere.

Monisha Bhatia, a native of Nashville, Tenn., is a fourth-year medical student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. She is hoping to pursue either a residency in internal medicine or a combined internal medicine/emergency medicine program. Prior to medical school, she completed a JD/MPH program at Boston University, and she hopes to use her legal training in working with regulatory authorities to improve access to health care for all Americans.

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