Tying up loose ends: discharging patients with unresolved medical issues

Arch Intern Med. 2007 Jun 25;167(12):1305-11. doi: 10.1001/archinte.167.12.1305.


Background: Patients are increasingly being discharged from the hospital with unresolved medical problems requiring outpatient follow-up. This study evaluates the frequency with which hospital physicians recommend outpatient workups to address patients' unresolved medical problems and the impact that availability of discharge summaries has on workup completion.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective cohort study of patients discharged from the medicine or geriatrics service of a large teaching hospital between June 1, 2002, and December 31, 2003. Each subject's inpatient medical record was reviewed to determine if the hospital physician recommended an outpatient workup. Subjects' outpatient medical records were then reviewed to determine if the workups were completed.

Results: Of 693 hospital discharges, 191 discharged patients (27.6%) had 240 outpatient workups recommended by their hospital physicians. The types of workups were diagnostic procedures (47.9%), subspecialty referrals (35.4%), and laboratory tests (16.7%). The most common diagnostic procedures were computed tomographic scans to follow up abnormalities seen on previous radiographic studies and endoscopic procedures to follow up gastrointestinal tract bleeding. Of recommended workups, 35.9% were not completed. Increasing time to the initial postdischarge primary care physician visit decreased the likelihood that a recommended workup was completed (odds ratio, 0.77; P=.002), and availability of a discharge summary documenting the recommended workup increased the likelihood of workup completion (odds ratio, 2.35; P=.007).

Conclusions: Noncompletion of recommended outpatient workups after hospital discharge is common. Primary care physicians' access to discharge summaries documenting the recommended workup is associated with better completion of recommendations. Future research should focus on interventions to improve the quality and dissemination of discharge information to primary care physicians.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Continuity of Patient Care / standards*
  • Delivery of Health Care / standards*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Hospitalists
  • Hospitals, Teaching
  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations*
  • Male
  • Medical Errors / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Outpatients*
  • Patient Discharge / trends*
  • Retrospective Studies