Information Transfer at Hospital Discharge: A Systematic Review

J Patient Saf. 2020 Mar;16(1):e25-e33. doi: 10.1097/PTS.0000000000000248.


Background: Prompt, complete, and accurate information transfer at the time of discharge between hospital-based and primary care providers (PCPs) is needed for the provision of safe and effective care.

Purpose of the study: To evaluate timeliness, quality, and interventions to improve timeliness and quality of hospital discharge summaries.

Data sources: PubMed, MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, Web of Science, and Scopus database published in English between January 2007 and February 2014 were searched. We also hand-searched bibliographies of relevant articles.

Study selection: Observational studies investigating transfer of information at hospital discharge (n = 7) and controlled studies evaluating interventions to improve timeliness and quality of discharge information (n = 12) were included.

Data extraction: We extracted data on availability, timeliness, and content of hospital discharge summaries and on the effectiveness of interventions targeting discharge summaries. Results of studies are presented narratively and using descriptive statistics.

Data synthesis: Across the studies, discharge summaries were completed within 48 hours in a median of 67% and were available to PCPs within 48 hours only 55% of the time. Most of the time, discharge summaries included demographics, primary diagnosis, hospital course, and discharge instructions. However, information was limited to pending test results (25%), diagnostic tests performed (60%), and postdischarge medications (78%). In 6 interventional studies, implementation of electronic discharge summaries was associated with improvement in timeliness but not quality.

Conclusions: Delayed or insufficient transfer of discharge information between hospital-based providers and PCPs remains common. Creation of electronic discharge summaries seems to improve timeliness and availability but does not consistently improve quality.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Hospitals / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Patient Discharge / statistics & numerical data*