Background: Readable discharge instructions may help caregivers understand and implement care plans following hospitalization. Many caregivers of hospitalized children, however, have limited literacy. We aimed to increase the percentage of discharge instructions written at 7th grade level or lower for hospital medicine patients from 13% to 80% in 6 months.
Methods: Quality improvement efforts targeted a 42-bed unit at the community satellite of our large, urban academic hospital. A multidisciplinary team of physicians, nurses, and parents focused on key drivers: family engagement in discharge process, standardization of discharge instructions, staff engagement in discharge preparedness, and audit and feedback of data. Improvement cycles included 1) education and implementation of a general discharge instruction template in the electronic health record (EHR); 2) visible reminders and tips for writing readable discharge instructions; 3) implementation of disease-specific discharge instruction templates in the EHR; and 4) individualized feedback to staff on readability and content of their written discharge instructions. Instructions were individually scored for readability using an online platform. An annotated control chart assessed the impact of interventions over time.
Results: Through sequential interventions over 6 months, the percentage of discharge instructions written at 7th grade or lower readability level increased from 13% to 98% and has been sustained for 4 months. The reliable use of the EHR templates was associated with our largest improvements.
Conclusion: Use of standardized discharge instruction templates and rapid feedback to staff improved the readability of instructions. Next steps include adaptation and spread to other patient populations.