Patient comprehension of discharge instructions from the emergency department: A literature review

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PurposeTo examine research published from 1995 to 2010, evaluating patient comprehension of discharge instructions from emergency department (ED) or urgent care (UC) settings. Specifically, we examined: (a) the interventions utilized to provide discharge instructions, (b) the methods used to assess patient comprehension, and (c) the most effective strategies for assuring patient comprehension of ED discharge instructions.Data sourcesA comprehensive literature review was conducted utilizing the following databases: Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), Health Reference Center Academic, Medline, Cochrane, and Ovid. English language peer-reviewed articles published between 1995 and 2010 were reviewed. Search terms included patient, comprehension, understanding, discharge instructions, health education, and emergency medicine.ConclusionsIncreases in patient comprehension of ED discharge instructions are identified with alternative teaching interventions (multimedia) in comparison to traditional standardized written discharge instructions (usual care). Literature suggests clinicians seldom clarify patient comprehension in practice, though effective methods are noted in research. Future research is needed to explore innovative teaching interventions and their impact upon patient comprehension and patient outcomes.Implications for practiceTo ensure patient comprehension of discharge instructions, the simplification of discharge material is paramount. Nurse practitioners working in ED or UC settings can improve upon “usual care” by exploring more innovative teaching interventions.

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