Navigating the Healthcare System: Planning for a Discharge from a Healthcare Facility


National data show that as many as one in five patients discharged from the hospital will be readmitted within 30 days. Many of these return visits are thought to be avoidable—and no one wants to go to the hospital unless it is necessary! To avoid return visits, it's important for patients and families to play an active role during the discharge planning.

Planning Ahead (see related video)

Make sure that these four important steps are completed before leaving the care of a hospital, nursing home, or other healthcare facility:

  • Medicine checklist: For each medicine you are taking, make sure that you have information about what the medicine is for, how to take it correctly, and what side effects to watch out for. (See Managing your Medications.)
  • "Red Flag" list: Nearly every illness comes with some signs ("red flags") that will tell you that you may be having problems or that you need to check with your doctor. Before leaving the hospital or nursing home, know what to watch out for.
  • Follow-up appointments: An important part of taking care of yourself after you leave a hospital or other care facility is to be sure to call your primary care doctor to make an appointment right away. When it’s time for discharge, have an action plan to make that appointment. In addition, ask your care team if you need to schedule any lab work or other tests.
  • Personal Health Record: A personal health record is a powerful tool that allows patients to organize, store, and keep track of health information. Be sure yours is up to date so that you can share detailed information about your hospital or care facility visit with your primary care doctor and any caregivers who may be helping you at home.

Medicare also provides an extensive checklist for patients and their families to use when preparing to leave a hospital, nursing home, or other healthcare facility. The checklist is available in two languages, English and Spanish.

Not ready to leave?

If you are worried that you or a family member is being discharged too soon, be sure to share your concerns with the healthcare provider.

Patients with Medicare coverage might also consider appealing the discharge order. Learn more about Medicare's discharge appeal process and the required timelines.

—Sharon I. Eloranta, MD, Qualis Health


Dr. Sharon Eloranta is Medical Director of Quality and Safety Initiatives at Qualis Health, the Medicare quality improvement organization for Washington and Idaho.


Qualis Health, a private, nonprofit healthcare quality improvement and consulting organization based in Seattle, serves as Medicare's Quality Improvement Organization (QIO) in Idaho and Washington and is working with communities across the state to help reduce unnecessary readmissions to the hospital.