Background: Discharge planning is the development of an individualised discharge plan for the patient prior to leaving hospital for home, with the aim of containing costs and improving patient outcomes. It has been suggested that discharge planning can reduce unplanned readmission to hospital.
Objectives: To assess the effects of discharge planning for patients moving from hospital to home.
Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care Group specialised register, the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register, MEDLINE (1966 to 1996), EMBASE (1980 to 1996), Sigle (1980 to 1996), Bioethics (1985 to 1996), Health Plan (all available years), PsycLit (1974 to 1996), Cinahl (1982 to 1996), EconLit (1969 to 1996), Social Science Citation Index (1992 to 1996), and reference lists of articles.
Selection criteria: Randomised trials and controlled trials comparing discharge planning with routine discharge for hospital patients. The outcomes were mortality, clinical complications, hospital length of stay, readmissions, discharge destination, general and disease specific health status, functional status, psychological well-being, patient satisfaction, carer satisfaction, carer burden, cost to the health service, patient and family, general practice, and community services.
Data collection and analysis: Two reviewers independently extracted data and assessed study quality.
Main results: Eight studies were included involving 4837 patients. Four studies recruited patients with a medical condition; four recruited patients with a mix of medical and surgical conditions, and one of these recruited medical and surgical patients as separate groups. There was a small reduction in hospital length of stay for elderly medical patients allocated to discharge planning (weighted mean difference -1.01, 95% CI -2.06 to 0.05). The effects of discharge planning on readmission rates were mixed. No statistically significant differences were detected for patient health outcomes. Patients with medical conditions allocated to discharge planning reported increased satisfaction compared with those receiving routine discharge. No statistically significant differences were reported for overall health care costs, although one study reported a significant reduction in readmission costs for medical patients allocated to discharge planning.
Reviewer's conclusions: The studies showed mixed results, which may reflect the different study populations and the different ways the intervention was implemented. There is some evidence that discharge planning may lead to reduced hospital length of stay, and in some cases reduced readmission to hospital. There is also some evidence that discharge planning increased patient satisfaction. There was no evidence that discharge planning reduced health care costs; however few studies conducted a formal economic analysis.