Send to

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
CJEM. 2005 Jan;7(1):5-11.

Emergency department discharge instructions comprehension and compliance study.

Author information

  • 1University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.



To assess patient comprehension of emergency department discharge instructions and to describe other predictors of patient compliance with discharge instructions.


Patients departing from the emergency department of an inner-city teaching hospital were invited to undergo a structured interview and reading test, and to participate in a follow-up telephone interview 2 weeks later. Two physicians, blinded to the other's data, scored patient comprehension of discharge information and compliance with discharge instructions. Inter-rater reliability was assessed using a kappa-weighted statistic, and correlations were assessed using Spearman's rank correlation coefficient and Fisher's exact test.


Of 106 patients approached, 88 (83%) were enrolled. The inter-rater reliability of physician rating scores was high (kappa = 0.66). Approximately 60% of subjects demonstrated reading ability at or below a Grade 7 level. Comprehension was positively associated with reading ability (r = 0.29, p = 0.01) and English as first language (r = 0.27, p = 0.01). Reading ability was positively associated with years of education (r = 0.43, p < 0.0001) and first language (r = 0.24, p = 0.03), and inversely associated with age (r = -0.21, p = 0.05). Non-English first language and need for translator were associated with poorer comprehension of discharge instructions but not related to compliance. Compliance with discharge instructions was correlated with comprehension (r = 0.31, p = 0.01) but not associated with age, language, education, years in anglophone country, reading ability, format of discharge instructions, follow-up modality or association with a family physician.


Emergency department patients demonstrated poor reading skills. Comprehension was the only factor significantly related to compliance; therefore, future interventions to improve compliance with emergency department instructions will be most effective if they focus on improving comprehension.

PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Loading ...
    Write to the Help Desk