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Discharge-Related Questions to Ask Your Doctor

by Edward Leigh, Patient Communications Expert
April 24, 2015

Question: My father who has been hospitalized is being discharged soon. What questions should I be asking his doctor before he leaves the hospital?

Answer: At the time a patient is released from the hospital, a discharge summary is completed and reviewed with the patient and family members. However, you are taking the right approach by planning your questions in advance.  The first step is to write the questions on paper.  I prefer creating a document using a word processing program so I could tweak my current questions and add news questions. Be sure to include space between questions to write your answers.

These are questions to ask before being discharged from the hospital.

Questions for your doctor

•    The exact diagnosis.  What precisely is the name of the diagnosis?  If the doctor says, “heart issues,“ that is not enough information. You need details.

•    The exact treatment plan.  Does your father need to visit a rehab center before going home or can he go directly home?  Whether a rehab center or home, what will the treatment plan be for either place?  Does the treatment plan involve new medications? If so, what medications? What about follow-up physician appointments?  Appointments for medical testing?

•    Talk to your father about his goals.  For example, a person may say, “I want to walk in my garden and be pain free.” Once you know your father’s goals, talk to the doctor about them. Sometimes doctors get so busy with diagnosis and treatment, they forget the simple question, ”What are your goals?”

•    If the patient is discharged directly home, what symptoms are red flags that something is wrong and needs immediate medical attention?  When is it best to call the doctor and when is best to visit the emergency department?

Questions for other healthcare professionals

•    Social worker.  A social worker can help locate a rehab center (if needed). They can also help coordinate home health care (if needed) and other services (e.g., Meals on Wheels and payment assistance programs). Be sure to ask about medical supplies and equipment. Social workers can also help with insurance and financial issues. I would encourage you to copies of pertinent medical records, such as consultation reports from specialists and test summaries. A social worker can help you get these through online patient portals or via the medical records department.

•    Pharmacist. If you have specific questions about medications, ask the hospital pharmacist. Pharmacists are highly underutilized. They know medications better than anyone! When taking care of my mother, all medication questions were typically directed to a pharmacist.

Good luck to you and your father.

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Edward Leigh, MA, focuses on helping patients and healthcare professionals effectively communicate with each other. Excellent communication skills dramatically enhance patient satisfaction and safety. He presents high-energy and informative programs for hospitals, healthcare associations, medical practices, government organizations and universities. He is also an in-demand consultant and coach. He has a master’s degree in health education.

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