After patients are discharged from hospitals, they often fall prey to a host of medical errors and complications that all too frequently result in serious injury or death. According to one study, within three weeks after discharge, almost 20% of patients suffered from dangerous adverse events. The worst part of this is that nearly 75% of these errors and events were completely preventable or could have been mitigated.

Patients are often released from hospitals to nursing and rehabilitation facilities, clinics or other hospitals. As well, many discharged patients are cared for by medical professionals in the patient's home or in the home of a family member. Many injuries and fatalities result from a complete or partial lack of communication between inpatient and outpatient providers. When outpatient providers do not receive thorough and accurate medical records – including a complete and detailed list of prescribed medications- serious harm or death is often the result.

In many instances, patients are discharged before their inpatient medical tests have been finalized or reviewed. Unfortunately, however, some patients are still ill and may be harboring infections and diseases. They need immediate outpatient care, but all too often do not get it due to a variety of reasons, including communication inconsistencies or a complete lack of communication.

Often, prescription errors are at cause. In some instances, deadly, incorrect medications have been prescribed and dispensed. This may be the fault of the physician, pharmacist, pharmacy technician or other medical professional. In some instances medications have been mislabeled. The lack of attentive, thorough and immediate post-discharge outpatient care results in increased errors.

Reducing Post-Discharge Adverse Events

Measures can be taken to prevent and reduce post-discharge adverse events by medical professionals and hospitals as well as patients. Hospitals must improve their current procedures pertaining to post-release care. Hospital management must take an aggressive approach to ensure that all patients have a safe transition to outpatient care. Every discharged patient should be contacted by phone or in person. Older and at-risk patients may have to be personally visited at home to make sure they are receiving proper care.

Thorough follow-up is an absolute necessity. Medications must be checked and cross-checked to ensure that all necessary medications are continued and that none are negligently discontinued. New prescriptions must be carefully checked to ensure they do not contraindicate current medication.

Adverse events occur after discharge at virtually all healthcare facilities. Nursing homes must be especially attentive when discharging patients. The Office of the Inspector General of The Department of Health and Human Services conducted a study in 2013 entitled, “Skilled Nursing Facilities Often Fail to Meet Care Planning and Discharge Planning Requirements.” The study stated, "For 31 percent of stays, skilled nursing facilities did not meet discharge planning requirements.”

Patients Can Help to Reduce or Eliminate Post-Discharge Adverse Events

Patients should understand that they can help to reduce or eliminate post-discharge adverse events by participating in the discharge process and by acting as their own ombudsmen. It is crucial for patients to ask their physicians and medical providers questions about their post-discharge medical treatment.

One of the simplest ways to help avoid medication errors is to ask physicians and prescribers to give the patient a clearly readable list of all medications, including dosages and instructions. This list should be checked and cross-checked with present and future medications. If there are any questions, patients should not hesitate to contact their physician or pharmacy.

Upon release from the hospital or healthcare facility, the patient should ask their physician whether there are any medical tests scheduled and if so, when and where they are. Patients should ask if there is anything in particular that should be conveyed to their next facility or caretaker. Again, to increase clarity and avoid confusion, ask for everything in writing. Patients should not be shy about this. A proactive, assertive stance on the patients’ part can completely avoid potential post-discharge complications.

Michels & Lew, Los Angeles Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury Law Firm

Michels & Lew is a personal injury and medical malpractice law firm that represents clients in Los Angeles, throughout California and nationwide. If you or a loved one experienced injuries or harm after being released from a hospital or other healthcare facility, please call Michels & Lew for a case review.