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Preparing for Hospital Discharge

Published on Nov 27, 2017

Each year, over 35 million people are discharged from the hospital in the US. While most people look forward to being discharged from the hospital, it can also be a difficult transition. After all, you’re leaving a place that provided constant, hands-on care to go home or to an environment where you’re likely to be responsible for at least some of the care that is needed. These factors can lead to issues involving your recovery and even to readmission to the hospital.

For example, a study of 551,000 patients who had surgery in the hospital found that almost 17% experienced a complication within 30 days of the surgery. Some of the most common complications were infections, pneumonia, blood clots, and surgical wounds breaking open.

It was reported that nearly 20% of Medicare patients are hospitalized again within 30 days of discharge.

Another study of patients who were readmitted within 30 days showed that almost 27% of these readmissions could have been prevented. Some of the most common reasons for these readmissions included:

  • Being discharged too early.
  • Symptoms or medications not being managed properly.
  • Patients not attending follow-up appointments after discharge.
  • Patients needing different or more services at home than what was ordered during discharge.
  • Patients not knowing whom to contact after they leave the hospital or when to go to the emergency room.
  • Lack of discussion about care goals for patients with a serious illness.

On the other hand, studies have also shown that improving discharge planning can improve outcomes for patients.

While most hospitals have a standard process for discharge, there can be a lot of details to coordinate. To complicate matters, you may be in a hurry to leave the hospital because you want to go home and may not think about next steps. However, it’s important that you work with the hospital care team to plan for discharge in advance. Doing so may help make for a smoother transition from the hospital. The checklist below can help you get started.

Download the checklist here.

Preparing for hospital discharge checklist

Tips that can help your discharge from the hospital

  • Plan for the things you'll need to have ready before you leave the hospital, so that you don't have to rush to do it right before your discharge. This can include things like a hospital bed or wheelchair, bandages, and skin care items. It may also include arranging for help with personal care and household chores.
  • Ask for written discharge instructions and a summary of your current health status. Bring this information to all of your follow-up medical appointments.
  • Most hospitals have discharge planners on staff. They can help you find community resources to help you develop your discharge plan. They can also help you understand your medical insurance coverage.
  • If you're unclear about any part of your hospital discharge instructions, don't hesitate to ask the members of your hospital care team to repeat the information or to explain it more clearly.

Dipali Davé, MD, MHA, is a physician and the Assistant Editor and Medical Researcher for Pfizer’s Get Healthy Stay Healthy website.



  • 1. Family Caregiver Alliance. Hospital Discharge Planning: A Guide for Families and Caregivers. Accessed September 26, 2017.
  • 2. Patient Safety Network. Readmissions and Adverse Events After Discharge. Accessed September 29, 2017.
  • 3. Eldercare Locator. Hospital to Home. Plan for a Smooth Transition. Accessed October 5, 2017.
  • 4. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Next Steps After Your Diagnosis. Accessed September 29, 2017.
  • 5. Division of Health and Human Services. Centers for Medicine & Medicaid Services. Your Discharge Planning Checklist: For patients and their caregivers preparing to leave a hospital, nursing home, or other care setting. Accessed October 5, 2017.
  • 6. Goodman DM. Discharge planning. JAMA. 2013;309(4):406.
  • 7. MedlinePlus. Leaving the Hospital—Your Discharge Plan. Accessed September 26, 2017.
  • 8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Number, rate, and average length of stay for discharges from short-stay hospitals, by age, region, and sex: United States, 2010. Accessed October 23, 2017.
  • 9. Kazaure HS, Roman SA, Sosa JA. Association of postdischarge complications with reoperation and mortality in general surgery. Arch Surg. 2012;147(11):1000-1007.
  • 10. Auerbach AD, Kripalani S, Vasilevskis EE, et al. Preventability and causes of readmissions in a national cohort of general medicine patients. JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(4):484-493.
  • 11. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. 20 Tips to Help Prevent Medical Errors. Accessed October 23, 2017.
  • 12. CaregiverStress.com. Post Hospital Stay Warning Signs. Accessed October 20, 2017.
External Resources

Quick Poll

After reviewing this tool, how likely are you to plan ahead for your (or someone you’re caring for) hospital discharge?


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