Patients were interviewed immediately after discharge outside the emergency department to determine whether they could read their discharge instructions and recall their diagnosis and treatment plan. The association between frequency of correct responses and various characteristics of the patients was assessed. Of the patients completing the interview, 72% could read the discharge instructions. The illiteracy rate was higher for patients with less than 9 years of education and for patients aged 50 to 59 years. There was no association between patient race, sex, or literacy. The correct diagnosis was given by 79% of patients, correct treatment information by 49%, and correct follow-up information by 82%. Overall, 37% of patients answered all questions correctly and 8% answered all questions incorrectly. No association was found between frequency of correct responses and variables examined. Miscommunication of discharge information occurs frequently; illiteracy does not completely account for the observed low rates of recall.