A hospital discharge is the process of moving a patient back into the community. Whether the patient returns home or goes to a different health-care facility, it’s important to plan ahead and make the transition as safe and smooth as possible.

Patients are discharged from the hospital when they no longer need such a high level of care. Healing at home tends to be more comfortable and restful, patients can move more freely in a familiar environment, and the risk of infection is much lower. At home, patients and their  family members can also discuss long-term plans in a calm setting and at their own pace.

Hospitals have discharge planners who help patients and their families or caregivers prepare for discharge. Discharge planning can start shortly after a patient arrives, or can start a few days before the patient is discharged.

Below is a list of topics a discharge planner might discuss. It’s a good idea for patients to write down any additional questions they may have and make sure they are covered when meeting the discharge planner.

  • Date of hospital discharge
  • Where the patient is going (home, a family member’s home, a long-term-care facility, a retirement community, etc.); the discharge planner can provide a list of care facilities to contact, if needed
  • Transportation from the hospital
  • Medications
  • Information about the illness, injury or surgery
  • Instructions for care or recovery (e.g., nutrition, exercises, things to avoid, how to change dressings or bandages)
  • Health issues to watch for (e.g., symptoms, side effects, when and where to seek medical advice)
  • Care and services required in the new setting and how to arrange them (e.g., nursing, home care, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, case management, dietetics, respiratory therapy, meal preparation, housekeeping)
  • Medical equipment or assistive devices (walker, cane, shower chair, oxygen, etc.)
  • Home modifications (e.g., adding ramps, grab bars, removing tripping hazards)
  • Who will help the patient (e.g., picking up medications, going to appointments)
  • Support for patients and caregivers (e.g., counsellors, support groups)
  • Upcoming medical tests and physician appointments

There is a lot of information to take in when planning a hospital discharge. If you are the patient, ask a friend or family member to take notes. Ask the discharge planner to put everything in writing, including appointment dates and any phone numbers you might need. Also ask when your health care providers, such as your family doctor or specialists, will receive information about your hospital treatment.

If there are any tasks that you don’t think you can handle on your own, share your concerns with the discharge planner. He or she may have suggestions to make the task easier or to find assistance. “For example, patients who need help with personal care (bathing, eating, toileting, etc.) can benefit from home care services”, says Jodi Marrin, Marketing Manager at Bayshore HealthCare. “Your discharge planner or a local home care agency may also be able to help you investigate funding options, including insurance benefits.”