Older patients' understanding of emergency department discharge information and its relationship with adverse outcomes

Susan N. Hastings, Amanda Barrett, Morris Weinberger, Eugene Z. Oddone, Luna Ragsdale, Michael Hocker, Kenneth E. Schmader

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


Objectives: To describe older patients' understanding of emergency department (ED) discharge information and to explore the relationship between understanding of ED discharge information and adverse outcomes. Methods: Telephone interviews were conducted with patients 65 years or older (or their proxies) within 72 hours of discharge from an academic medical center ED. We assessed 4 areas of discharge information: ED diagnosis, expected course of illness, self-care instructions, and return precautions. Adverse events were defined as repeat ED visits and hospitalizations or deaths within 90 days of ED discharge. Reverse Kaplan-Meier curves were constructed to illustrate cumulative event probabilities according to patient understanding of discharge information (differences examined with log-rank tests). Results: Of 92 respondents (mean patient age, 75.1; SD, 7.4; 59.8% female subjects), patients or proxies reported not understanding discharge information about diagnosis (20.7%), self-care instructions (16.3%), expected course of illness (63%), and return precautions (55.7%). Within 90 days of ED discharge, 42.3% of patients had returned to the ED, 30.4% were hospitalized, and 4.3% had died. There was little difference in cumulative event probabilities according to whether patients understood self-care instructions or return precautions. Adverse event probabilities were higher among patients who did not understand their ED diagnosis (P = 0.33) and those who did not understand expected course of illness (P = 0.12), although these did not achieve statistical significance. Conclusions: A substantial number of older patients, or proxies, may not understand ED discharge information, and this could have an effect on patient outcomes. Strategies are needed to improve communication of ED discharge information to older patients and their families.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-25
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Patient Safety
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • discharge information
  • emergency department
  • older adults

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Leadership and Management
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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