Effective discharge communication in the emergency department

Ann Emerg Med. 2012 Aug;60(2):152-9. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2011.10.023. Epub 2012 Jan 4.


Communication at discharge is an important part of high-quality emergency department (ED) care. This review describes the existing literature on patient understanding and implementation of discharge instructions, discusses previous interventions aimed at improving the discharge process, and recommends best practices and future research. MEDLINE and Cochrane databases were searched, using combinations of key terms. Literature from both the adult and pediatric ED populations was reviewed. Multiple reports have shown deficient comprehension at discharge, with patients or parents frequently unable to report their diagnosis, management plan, or reasons to return. Interventions to improve discharge communication have been, at best, moderately successful. Patients need structured content, presented verbally, with written and visual cues to enhance recall. Written instructions need to be provided in the patient's language and at an appropriate reading level. Understanding should be confirmed before the patient leaves the ED. Further research is needed to describe the optimal content, channel, and timing for the ED discharge process and the relationship between discharge process and outcomes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Asthma / therapy
  • Communication*
  • Comprehension
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / standards*
  • Humans
  • Patient Discharge / standards*