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Prevent Readmissions With Discharge Planning

Rebecca Hendren, for HealthLeaders Media, April 5, 2011

Discharge planning is a process that should begin as soon as patients are admitted to the hospital. In a perfect world, healthcare team members, patients, and families communicate and work together to move patients quickly and safely to home or the next level of care.

In reality, discharge planning can be fractious. Older adult patients and their families face many choices about where to go and often disagree on the best course of care. Communication among caregivers can be far from ideal and communication between patients and families can be fraught with disagreements.

As hospitals battle readmission rates, more attention is being paid to discharge planning. Lori Popejoy, Phd, APRN, GCNS-BC, assistant professor in the Sinclair School of Nursing at the University of Missouri, has been studying the discharge planning process around older adults and recommends hospitals pay more attention to the decision-making process with these patients. 

Popejoy, who has years of experience with care of the older adult before entering academia, recently published a study, “Complexity of Family Caregiving and Discharge Planning,” in the Journal of Family Nursing. I spoke to her about the problems nurses face as they work with older adults and their families, the challenges faced by healthcare providers as they discharge older adults from the hospital, and the healthcare transitions faced by elderly people and their families following hospitalizations.

Popejoy says that our understanding of discharge planning and how patients make decisions is quite simplistic. We usually think about conversations between physicians and their patients or between physicians and families. In reality, dozens of people are involved in any decision. So she examined interactions between healthcare team members, including nurses and social workers, and older adult patients and their families. She wanted to understand how these diverse stakeholders come together to make a single decision about leaving the hospital and where they are going to go. She wanted to understand how much participation in decisions patients and families want the healthcare team to have and what actually happens as decisions unfold.

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