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Release preparation is a process that aims to enhance the coordination of services after discharge from healthcare facility by considering the patient's requirements in the community. It seeks to bridge the gap in between medical facility and the location to which the client is discharged, decrease length of stay in medical facility, and reduce unintended readmission to healthcare facility.
Discharge preparation is a recognized part of health center care, but the process differs and is not totally evidenced based. A Cochrane review evaluated 11 randomised controlled trials looking at discharge preparation in over 5000 clients and failed to show a reduction in death amongst senior medical patients, lower readmission rates, or a much shorter length of healthcare facility stay.
However, two trials in the review did report greater complete satisfaction of clients and carers when discharge planning was used.
The Cochrane evaluation concluded that discharge planning stays essential as a small improvement, not discovered by the research studies performed so far, might still yield extremely significant gains in health care with huge resource implications and much better usage of intense medical facility beds.
Unfortunately, none of the consisted of trials assessed communication with primary care personnel about client transfer of care. This is a crucial element of discharge preparation and another possibly crucial advantage for patients.
On a client's initial contact with health services, discharge preparation need to be begun. This is often tough to accomplish when acutely unwell patients are admitted as a comprehensive social history might not be immediately offered without a collateral history from a relative or primary doctor (who may be tough to contact).
Taking an extensive social history is typically believed to be time consuming but can be obtained rapidly through the usage of organized open questions (see the 4 circumstance boxes).
Effective discharge planning requires multidisciplinary team working. This can be difficult to coordinate because of shift work, ward transfers, staff illness, and perhaps poor team communication. To overcome this problem, an adequate handover—oral, written, or electronic—is key. Sometimes disagreements arise in the team about the most appropriate course of action, but this can usually be resolved through the involvement of a more senior member of the medical team.
Clear sensitive communication with the patient and family is pivotal, especially for the patients who experience a considerable new loss of function. Patient confidentiality cannot be neglected, however, and permission needs to be sought from a competent patient before information is divulged to a family. Relatives will sometimes disagree with the patient’s or team’s views about the most appropriate discharge destination. Listening to the relatives’ concerns is especially important in these situations as a compromise is often possible; however, it is the competent patient’s wishes that are paramount. Often asking patients and families for their opinion on the best and safest place to stay and then subsequently considering potential difficulties on discharge can yield the best outcome. Serious disputes should involve the consultant responsible for the care of the patient.
Handover to primary care is easily neglected as it may be perceived as low priority compared with treating unwell inpatients. Early completion of the immediate discharge document can prevent pharmacy delays, and vigilance is needed to ensure effective follow-up and handover—such as ensuring that follow-up is booked before discharge, oral information is given at handover of patients to primary care, and immediate discharge letters leave with patients
The patient’s ongoing needs must be considered and provided for before he or she leaves hospital. This might entail arranging appropriate follow-up (in primary or secondary care); ensuring appropriate drug treatment (with details of indications, length of course, planned dose changes); noting specific warning signs and symptoms that should prompt immediate medical attention; and ensuring adequate support at home.
A key aim of discharge planning is to provide good continuity of care to ensure good patient outcomes, hence effective handover to primary care. This is most often achieved through the immediate discharge document. Limited data are available on discharge documentation, but recent audits have shown that key facts and data such as follow-up arrangements, new diagnoses, and accurate medication lists are often omitted. The Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN) has recommended that senior staff should approve every immediate discharge document. Box 3 outlines the recommended minimum content for discharge documentation. In complex or unwell patients, contacting the general practitioner, community matron, or specialist nurse before discharge may be necessary to ensure an effective handover. See also the scenario box (Case study part 4).
The Department of Health guidelines suggest that preparation for discharge needs to involve health professionals, family members, social services, and the patient.
Increasingly, the process of discharge is coordinated by the discharge coordinator (a new post in health care), who is often recruited from a nursing or social services background. Discharge coordinators provide a single point of contact for all involved in the discharge planning process. In some hospitals, however, this planning role may still lie principally with junior members of the medical team or the ward sister. In either case, the consultant in charge of the patient’s care has responsibility for ensuring an appropriately safe and timely discharge or transfer of care to the community.
Discharge planning requires effective multidisciplinary team working, and this is usually facilitated by weekly team meetings—which typically include medical, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, nursing, and social services professionals - to discuss each patient’s progress and the current obstacles to discharge. To participate fully in these meetings junior doctors need:
Admission to hospital is a vulnerable time for patients and their families. As a result of illness patients often experience a loss of functional ability and require either a temporary or more prolonged increase in social support.
For most patients the ideal situation is to return to their previous level of function (and their usual accommodation). However, the length of stay in an acute hospital bed is usually fairly short and may not be long enough to allow the full potential recovery of a patient. So in such a case, it must be considered whether a patient might benefit from a period of rehabilitation—either as an inpatient or in the community. Intermediate care—for patients not requiring general hospital resources but with needs outside the traditional scope of primary care—has become a popular model for delivering rehabilitation in the NHS and elsewhere.
The involvement of patients, carers, and families is crucial to successful and timely discharge planning. A survey by the charity Carers UK found that 43% of the 2.3 million carers in the United Kingdom felt inadequately supported when the person returned home. Topics that carers may want to be discussed before discharge include their role as a carer, the possibility of future respite, finances, and benefits.
A patient who has had an irreversible loss of function may require additional support at home. This could be achieved by increased care services (via social services), compensatory aids or adaptations to the home informed by an occupational therapist’s assessment, community nursing input, or through the patient’s informal care network.
Patients who can no longer manage at home may need long term care in a care home, but this should only be considered after a period of multidisciplinary rehabilitation team assessment and treatment. The process for this is outlined in the national framework for NHS continuing healthcare and NHS-funded nursing care, introduced in 2007.
Discussing such a proposition with a patient or their family requires great sensitivity, and the decision to discharge to a new residence is one that requires senior input. However, junior doctors often play an important role in collecting information that helps inform decision making, and box 2 gives some useful questions to ask the patient when making this decision; see also the scenario box (Case study part 3).
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