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Surgery. 2018 Nov 19. pii: S0039-6060(18)30726-8. doi: 10.1016/j.surg.2018.10.014. [Epub ahead of print]

Enhanced readability of discharge summaries decreases provider telephone calls and patient readmissions in the posthospital setting.

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Department of Surgery, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN.
Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery, Surgical Outcomes Program, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN.
Division of Trauma and Emergency Surgery, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, TX.
Department of Surgery, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN. Electronic address:



Hospital discharge instructions provide critical information necessary for patients to manage their own care; however, often they are written at a substantially higher readability level than recommended (ie, 6th-grade level) by the American Medical Association and the National Institutes of Health. We hypothesize that improving the reading level of discharge instructions will decrease the number of patient telephone calls and readmissions in the posthospital setting.


We conducted a prospective observational study. Patient discharge instructions were edited and incorporated to enhance the readability level in August 2015. Return telephone call and readmissions of patients admitted before the intervention from August 1, 2014, to January 31, 2015, were compared with the prospective cohort studied from September 1, 2015, to September 30, 2016.


A total of 1,072 patients were included (preintervention: n = 493, postintervention: n = 579). Patient demographics, injury characteristics, and education level were similar among both groups. The median discharge instruction readability level in the postintervention group was significantly lower (10.0, 95% CI 10.0-10.2 vs 8.6, 95% CI 8.8-8.9; P < .0001). The proportion of patients calling after hospital discharge was significantly reduced after the intervention (21.9% vs 9.0%; P < .0001). Monthly hospital readmissions were decreased by 50% for every 100 patients discharged after the intervention (1.9% vs 0.9%; P = .002). The proportion of patients calling and readmissions for poor pain control significantly decreased after the intervention (7.1% vs 2.59%; P = .0005 and 2.8% vs 1.0%; P = .029, respectively).


Enhanced readability of discharge instructions was associated with a decrease in the number of telephone calls and readmissions in the posthospital setting, enhancing health literacy and simultaneously reducing the burden on providers. Improved patient instructions written to an appropriate level may also allow for better pain control in the posthospital setting.


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