Whether patients are leaving the emergency department or being released from an extensive hospitalization, they need discharge instructions in order to solve their initial problem, better self-manage, and coordinate the appropriate follow-up. These instructions are typically written and are also articulated to the patient. We know that due to varying levels of health literacy, or the degree to which individuals have the capacity to process and understand basic health information needed to make appropriate health decisions , a patient is especially vulnerable during the process of discharge in terms of overall understanding and appropriate follow through. Can technology empower patients operating from a position of weakness in this transition?
- According to the 2013 study entitled Information Technology Improves Emergency Department Patient Discharge Instructions Completeness and Performance on a National Quality Measure, researchers were able to show that electronic discharge instructions were more complete than paper-based information. The electronic discharge instructions had 97.3% compliance to a CMS quality measure while the paper-based discharge instructions were at 46.7%. This compliance is more than doubled with electronic discharge documentation (relative risk 2.09, 95%CI 1.75-2.48) ; however, there were no statistically significant differences in documentation of patient care instructions nor diagnosis between paper-based and electronic formats.
- In a 2015 study entitled Readability of patient discharge instructions with and without the use of electronically available disease-specific templates, patient readability of a web based discharge module, which has diagnosis-specific templated discharge instructions, was assessed. Patients had better readability with electronic templated discharge instructions than those that were clinician-generated (p< .001). Furthermore, the primary reason doctors created discharge instructions by themselves was due to lack of disease specific template availability.
The most exciting time in medicine is now, where the application of information technology during vulnerable transitions can provide a patient more complete information that he/she can actually act upon. Taken together, these studies suggest enhancement of both comprehensiveness and comprehension; the former very important for the primary care physician who will assume care of this patient status post hospitalization and the latter important for the patient’s overall health literacy necessary for improvement. The next logical extension is to have web based applications assist a patient in the transition from the hospital to the outpatient setting, something that innovative companies like Wellpepper are doing.
- Nielsen-Bohlman, L.; Panzer, AM.; Kindig, DA. Health literacy: A prescription to end confusion. National Academies Press; Washington, DC: 2004.
- Bell EJ et al. Information Technology Improves Emergency Department Patient Discharge Instructions Completeness and Performance on a National Quality Measure: A Quasi-Experimental Study. Appl Clin Inform. 2013; 4(4): 499–514.
- Mueller SK et al. Readability of patient discharge instructions with and without the use of electronically available disease-specific templates. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2015; 22(4): 857-63.