Information Transfer and the Hospital Discharge Summary: National Primary Care Provider Perspectives of Challenges and Opportunities

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The hospital discharge summary (HDS) serves as a critical method of patient information transfer between hospitalist and primary care provider (PCP). This study was designed to increase our understanding of PCP preferences for, and perceived deficiencies in, the discharge summary.


We designed a mail survey that was sent to a random sample of 800 American Academy of Family Physicians members nationally. The survey response rate was 59%. We analyzed the availability of summaries at hospital followup, whether all desired information was contained in the summary and whether certain specific items were completed. Provider subgroup analysis was performed.


The strongest predictor of discharge summary availability at posthospital followup is direct access to inpatient data. Respondents (27.5%) had a summary available 0% to 40% of the time, 41.4% noted availability 41% to 80% of the time and 31.1% >80% of the time; if a provider had access to inpatient data they tended to have a discharge summary available to them (P< .0001). Providers also described significant content deficits: 26.5% of providers noted the summary contained all information needed 0% to 40% of the time, 48.5% of providers noted this 41% to 80% of the time and only 25% >80% of the time. Specific summary items considered “very important” by providers included medication list (94% of respondents), diagnosis list (89%), and treatment provided (87%).


Opportunities remain in timely delivery of a complete HDS to the PCP. Further multifaceted practice redesign should be directed at optimizing this critical information transfer tool, potentially encompassing electronic medical record utilization and specific training for clinicians preparing summaries. Initial efforts should focus on ensuring availability of a complete summary (containing items deemed important by PCPs including medication list, diagnosis list, and treatment provided) at the posthospital follow-up visit.

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