Continuity of care: when do patients visit community healthcare providers after leaving hospital?

Intern Med J. 2011 Sep;41(9):662-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1445-5994.2009.02105.x. Epub 2009 Oct 22.


Background/aims: Enhanced communication and transfer of information between healthcare providers and healthcare settings can reduce medication and healthcare errors post-hospital discharge. The timeframes within which patients access community healthcare providers post-hospital discharge are not well studied. This study aimed to determine length of time from hospital discharge until a general practice, pharmacy or specialist visit, or care planning service.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective analysis of Department of Veterans' Affairs health claims data. All 109 860 veterans hospitalized in 2006 were included. Main outcome measures were time from first hospital discharge to first claim for a general practice, pharmacy, specialist visit and/or care planning service.

Results: Within 30 days of hospital discharge 71% of subjects visited a general practitioner (GP), 86% had medicines dispensed from a community pharmacy and 44% saw a specialist. Median time to first pharmacy visit was 6 days (interquartile range 2-14) and 12 days for a GP visit (interquartile range 4-31). Less than 2% of the cohort received a discharge plan, case conference or medication review in the month after discharge.

Conclusions: With 25% of patients having a claim for a GP service within 4 days of discharge, discharge summaries need to reach community-based health professionals within this time. Most patients visited their community pharmacy within 2 weeks of hospital discharge and before they saw their GP. Pharmacists are not routinely advised of hospitalization or provided with discharge summaries. More active engagement of this professional group in the continuum of care might improve care after hospital discharge.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Community Health Services / methods
  • Community Health Services / trends*
  • Continuity of Patient Care / trends*
  • Female
  • Health Personnel / trends*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient Discharge / trends*
  • Pharmacy / methods
  • Pharmacy / trends
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs / trends*