The COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt all aspects of hospital care, and has altered nearly all fundamental practices, including discharge protocols. A session presented at the Society of Hospitalist Medicine’s 2020 Virtual Annual Conference will focus on discharge issues in the COVID-19 era.
“Discharge planning is an integral part of a hospitalist’s clinical care. On a daily basis, we think carefully about how to help our patients safely transition back into life outside of the hospital,” said Maralyssa Bann, MD, of the University of Washington, Seattle, a copresenter at the session.
“Patients need up-to-date information about how to keep themselves and those around them safe,” she said. “They need resources and supports to help them recover from illness.”
These supports include access to appropriate follow-up with primary care doctors or other specialists and being discharged to the right location, such as home or a skilled nursing facility, Dr. Bann noted.
In response to COVID-19, “within an exceptionally short time frame, hospitals have had to rapidly adapt their discharge planning protocols and have had to continue to adapt as new information comes out,” Dr. Bann said.
“In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of discharge planning for patient care and has added a new element of public health in that we have to take all possible precautions to ensure that patients are not spreading the virus after they leave the hospital,” said Ryan Greysen, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and Dr. Bann’s copresenter.
Many elements go into creating a good discharge plan, but there are often many unknowns, Dr. Greysen said. “I think there is an opportunity to improve the process by improving follow-up as well.”
“For example, one program at our hospital focused on vulnerable older adults includes an in-home visit by a visiting nurse on the day of discharge to verify the patient has everything they need when they arrive home,” However, now with more telemedicine and social distancing, there should be creative approaches to tying up loose ends and monitoring for things that can go wrong in order to give additional guidance, he said.
“In a previous study of 12 U.S. academic medical centers, my colleagues and I interviewed over 1,000 patients who were discharged and then readmitted to ask them what they thought went wrong,” said Dr. Greysen. “Overwhelmingly, patients indicated that they understood their discharge instructions and the plan of care at the time they left the hospital, but then when there were breakdowns or unanticipated challenges in the plan, they were uncertain what to do.”
In the HM20 Virtual session, Dr. Greysen and Dr. Bann will present additional data from the same network that Dr. Greysen used in his study, the Hospital Medicine Reengineering Network or HOMERuN, but expanded to include 22 sites.
The specific areas will include clinical and nonclinical criteria for patients to be discharged home, how criteria differed for discharge destinations other than home, discharge logistics, discharge instructions for patients and caregivers, and postdischarge follow-up.
“Developing a discharge protocol during a pandemic is a major challenge. There are new barriers and challenges to finding the right discharge location, as information about illness course and outcome is incomplete or evolving,” Dr. Bann said. “The safety of patients and their loved ones, health care workers and staff, as well as the public at large is always top of mind. Decisions have to be made in a timely way and communicated clearly. This is a huge task in addition to all of the other competing work in the midst of a pandemic, which is why learning from each other and collectively creating our shared best practices is tremendously helpful. If I can take example approaches from other hospitals and update them for use at my site, this saves a lot of time and effort.”
“There is great urgency to understand when it is safe to discharge these patients from the hospital,” Dr. Greysen said. “Many COVID patients can have worsening of their symptoms after a period of initial improvement so sending them home too soon is a major concern. On the other hand, we can’t keep COVID patients in the hospital until they have fully recovered; we would increase their risk of iatrogenic events and we could risk using up capacity of the health care system to care for other patients, both COVID and non-COVID.”
Unfortunately, no evidence base yet exists to guide the creation of discharge guidelines for COVID patients, said Dr. Greysen. “Therefore, we conducted a survey of HOMERuN sites to synthesize practices across sites and provide some guidance for hospitals based on themes or concordance between these sites.
“One area of clear concordance among sites in our study was around the use of [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines to address patient isolation procedures as well as strategies to mitigate transmission, such as providing patients with protective gear like masks or requiring the driver who picks up the patient wear a mask for transportation,” Dr. Greysen said. “We also found that many sites used certain clinical criteria – for example, temperature, oxygen saturation or supplementation, and improvement of presenting symptoms – but there was wide variation in the details for these criteria.”
In addition, “some sites required that a patient be afebrile for a certain period of time before discharge whereas others only required that patients be afebrile at the time of discharge. There was also relatively strong consensus around assessing the level of social support and ability to perform activities of daily living prior to discharge,” since social support and ability to function are often interrelated and can be difficult to assess without visiting the home, he said.
“Further development the evidence around which discharge criteria are associated with adverse outcomes such as readmission or death is urgently needed. At this moment, we really don’t know which clinical criteria such as oxygen supplementation or nonclinical criteria are associated with better outcomes in COVID patients,” Dr. Greysen said, but he and his team plan to study this using EMR data in HOMERuN.
Dr. Bann said that clinical criteria for discharge will likely provoke lively discussions during the interactive part of the virtual session. “Also, I have heard a lot of discussion and interest in learning about how different sites are handling postdischarge monitoring and follow-up, such as how we ensure that patients are recovering well after discharge, and whether there are new or different needs for this patient population,” she added.
“Attendees should come away from this session with an understanding of how hospitals across the country have augmented their discharge planning responses during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Bann said. “This session is all about learning from each other and creating shared best practices,” she said.
“I hope that those who attend our session are able to see some areas of consensus in our study that could be applied to their discharge criteria,” Dr. Greysen added.
Dr. Bann and Dr. Greysen had no relevant financial conflicts to disclose.
Discharge Planning for COVID-19: Collected Practices from Across the U.S.