When you leave a hospital after treatment, you go through a process called hospital discharge. A hospital will discharge you when you no longer need to receive inpatient care and can go home. Or, a hospital will discharge you to send you to another type of facility.
Many hospitals have a discharge planner. This person helps coordinate the information and care you’ll need after you leave. You’ll need to understand your injury or illness. You’ll need to know the next steps to take. This may include taking medicine, caring for a bandage, or entering rehabilitation, for example. Make sure you know who to contact if you have a question or a problem. The discharge planner and your healthcare provider will answer your questions.
After you leave the hospital, you will need to make sure to take care of yourself as instructed. This will help ensure you don’t need to go back into the hospital.
The hospital will discharge you if you no longer need to be there for your care. But this may not mean that you are fully healed or recovered. You may have a health condition that still needs attention and care.
Why would a hospital discharge a person who has not fully recovered? Hospital care is for people who need a high level of medical attention. It's also expensive, and often uncomfortable. Being in the hospital also exposes you to the possibility of infection, particularly if you have a weak immune system. Once a person is getting better and does not need a high level of care, a hospital stay is not needed. When the person is discharged, this makes a bed available to another person who needs a high level of care.
You will still get care after leaving the hospital. After discharge, you’ll go through a transition of care. That means you will now have a different level of medical care outside of the hospital. For example, you may go to a skilled nursing facility if you need some level of further care and are not yet ready to go home. If you need physical rehabilitation, you will go to a rehab facility. In these places, healthcare providers will oversee your continuing care. They will keep in touch with the healthcare providers in the hospital as well as your primary healthcare provider. This is to help ensure that you get the treatment that you need.
Or, you may transition to home care. For this, you or a family member will work with your healthcare providers to manage your care at home. A home care agency may send healthcare providers to your home to check in with your progress.
No matter where you go after discharge, you’ll need to follow all the instructions from your healthcare providers. This will help prevent problems that can make you need to go back to the hospital.
The main risk is that the hospital may discharge you before you are medically ready. If this happens, you may end up back in the hospital. Your healthcare team will discharge you if they believe there is only a small chance that this may happen. Carefully following your healthcare provider’s instructions can help to minimize this risk. There is also the risk that you may be confused with some of the changes made in the hospital. You may not start a new medicine or possibly stop an old medicine that you have been taking for a long time. Following the suggestions below can lower this risk.
Before you start the discharge process, ask for paper and a pen or pencil. Make a list of all of your questions. Be prepared to take notes. Make sure your questions are answered. If English is not your first language, you can ask for language help during the process. Have the providers explain your condition in plain terms you can understand. Ask to be given printed information about your discharge. You may also want to ask a family member or friend to be present while you go through the discharge process.
If you are going home, do you have a ride home from the hospital? You may need to arrange for extra help at home for a while.
During the discharge process, members of your healthcare team will provide you with the information you need to make this transition successfully. Your medical team should discuss all of the following with you:
Your medical condition at the time of discharge
What kinds of follow-up care you will need, such as physical therapy
What medicines you need to take, including why, when, and how to take them, and possible side effects to watch for
How to dispose of medicines you no longer need to take
What medical equipment you will need, and how to get it
When and how you will receive test results
Instructions on food and drink, exercise, and activities to avoid
What you can expect at your new facility, if you’re not going home
Phone numbers to call if you have a question or problem
Instructions about when you should call
Days and times of your follow-up appointments, or information about how to make appointments
If your discharge process does not include some of these, make sure to ask. It’s important to get all of your questions and concerns answered.
Make sure to ask the hospital when they will communicate to outside healthcare providers about the care you received in the hospital as well as your current care needs. Make sure the outside healthcare providers get this information before your first follow-up appointment. Without this information, they will not be able to give you the care you need.
After a hospital discharge, you’ll need to carefully follow all of the instructions from your healthcare provider. If you have a question about your follow-up care, call to ask. If you’re concerned about problems, make sure to call with questions. This can help prevent problems from getting worse.
Make sure to keep all of your follow-up appointments. When you go to an appointment, be ready to tell your healthcare provider how you have been feeling. Bring copies of any tests results. Ask questions about any part of your recovery or care. You may have been given important instructions to follow, such as weighing yourself daily, or doing certain exercises to speed your recovery.
Let family members or friends be a part of your recovery after discharge. They may be able to pick up medicines or take you to appointments. They may remember things that you forget about symptoms, problems, or questions you want to ask. This can help you ensure a smoother recovery after discharge.
Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:
The name of the test or procedure
The reason you are having the test or procedure
What results to expect and what they mean
The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
What the possible side effects or complications are
When and where you are to have the test or procedure
Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure
Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
When and how you will get the results
Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
How much you will have to pay for the test or procedure