Why the post-hospital discharge period can be the most dangerous

Numerous and potentially fatal errors can occur when someone is hospitalized. However, did you know that patients are actually most in danger in the period following their discharge from the hospital? That’s especially true for older patients with complex and multiple medical conditions who are transitioning from the hospital to a nursing home, rehabilitation facility, or at-home health care.

Medication errors are among the most common reasons for complications that occur in the period after hospital discharge. In fact, they’ve been called a “public health issue.”

Congress authorized $30 billion for electronic medical records to help reduce prescription drug and other errors that result when care is coordinated among multiple providers. However, none of those funds were earmarked for rehabilitation facilities, home health agencies, or nursing homes.

Even when a patient isn’t being cared for by others after a hospital discharge, errors can happen. Sometimes they result from a simple lack of communication with the patient. According to government statistics, less than 50 percent of patients report that they have confidence in their understanding of their after-care instructions.

One tragic case is evidence of the consequences of poor coordination, error, and negligence among those involved when a patient is released from the hospital. A woman who was hospitalized for congestive heart failure, was mistakenly given a cancer drug rather than a diuretic when she was discharged. She died as a result of its toxic effects.

The medication error was made by the pharmacy while taking the woman’s prescription orders from a nurse at the medical center where she’d been hospitalized. However, the woman’s daughter says that the prescription error “should have been caught about five different ways.” The woman’s home health nurses also reportedly failed to note that she was taking the wrong medication. The family won a suit against the pharmacy and reached a settlement with the medical center.

It can be challenging to determine who should be held liable when a patient is harmed or killed due to mistakes or negligence when a patient is discharged from the hospital. An important aspect of a medical malpractice attorney’s job is to investigate the situation fully and determine what individuals and entities should be held responsible.

Source: The Washington Post, “Hospital discharge: It’s one of the most dangerous periods for patients,” Jordan Rau, April 29, 2016

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