In search of a better discharge summary

June 19, 2015 in Medical Technology

New research under way at University at Buffalo School of Nursing, could lead to automating hospital discharge communication and reducing readmissions. Automating, the discharge process, UB officials say, could add critical data and reduce the time it takes the information to reach community health care providers from weeks to hours.

The preliminary study, led by Sharon Hewner, assistant professor in the School of Nursing, could speed delivery of the hospital discharge summary to less than 24 hours and potentially reduce the number of patients readmitted to hospitals.

The research, “Exploring Barriers to Care Continuity during Transitions: A Mixed-methods Study to Identify Health Information Exchange Opportunities,” is funded by a $35,000 UB Innovative Micro-Programs Accelerating Collaboration in Themes, or IMPACT, grant.

“It takes too long to get the information to primary care,” says Hewner, in a news release. “If the summary comes in three weeks after the person has been discharged from a hospital, the chances are pretty good that they’ve already been back, either to the emergency room or for hospitalization.”

Although hospitals have been using electronic health records for nearly 10 years, most software is geared toward processing billing. At many hospitals, the discharge summary still relies on U.S. Postal Service for delivery, largely because it is seen as the final step in medical care and has been regarded as not requiring quick processing.

[See also: How one hospital boosted care transitions.]

Researchers will use observational data collected at Kaleida Health’s hospitals on clinician workflows and documentation around care transitions between the hospital and community.

To create a discharge summary, hospital physicians dictate a report that includes a patient’s diagnosis and medical treatment that is later transcribed and mailed to the patient’s primary physician.

Today, summaries often omit information from nurses, social workers or therapists that can make a difference in a person’s ability to manage his or her own care. The records typically take 10-14 days to reach primary care providers, long after the 48-hour window for follow-up of high-risk cases has passed, says Hewner.

Common problems include duplication of medications already in the home and confusion about where hospitals should send the summary, she adds.

“There’s always a clock running on getting someone out fast enough that has a lot to do with some of the financial mechanisms that hospitals get reimbursed under,” says Hewner, in a press statement.

“So some of the things that people think are nice but not critically important, like patient education or the reconciliation of medication, sometimes get pushed into the background.”

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