The Ideal Hospital Discharge Summary: A Survey of U.S. Physicians

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Hospital discharge summaries enable communication between inpatient and outpatient physicians. Despite existing guidelines for discharge summaries, they are frequently suboptimal.


The aim of this study was to assess physicians' perspectives about discharge summaries and the differences between summaries' authors (hospitalists) and readers (primary care physicians [PCPs]).


A national survey of 1600 U.S. physicians was undertaken. Primary measures included physicians' preferences in discharge summary standardization, content, format, and audience.


A total of 815 physicians responded (response rate = 51%). Eighty-nine percent agreed that discharge summaries “should have a standardized format.” Most agreed that summaries should “document everything that was done, found, and recommended in the hospital” (64%) yet “only include details that are highly pertinent to the hospitalization” (66%). Although 74% perceived patients as an important audience of discharge summaries, only 43% agreed that summaries “should be written in language that patients…can easily understand,” and 68% agreed that it “should be written solely for provider-to-provider communication.” Compared with hospitalists, PCPs preferred comprehensive summaries (68% versus 59%, P = 0.002). More PCPs agreed that separate summaries should be created for patients and for provider-to-provider communication than hospitalists (60% versus 47%, P < 0.001). Compared with PCPs, more hospitalists believe that “hospitalists are too busy to prepare a high-quality discharge summary” (44% versus 23%, P < 0.001) and “PCPs have insufficient time to read an entire discharge summary” (60% versus 38%, P < 0.001).


Physicians believe that discharge summaries should have a standardized format but do not agree on how comprehensive or in what format they should be. Efforts are necessary to build consensus toward the ideal discharge summary.

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