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Marci’s Medicare Answers August 2015

Hospital discharge planning services are intended to make your move from the hospital to your home or other location as smooth and safe as possible, and aim to prevent additional trips to the hospital for you. Under specific circumstances, Medicare does require all hospitals to provide discharge planning services as part of a hospital stay. Let’s see if those circumstances might apply to you.

August 2015

Dear Marci,

I am having heart valve replacement surgery soon and spoke with my primary care doctor about care after my surgery. She said that I should ask the hospital for a discharge plan before I leave so that I understand how to continue my care once I am home. I have never received a discharge plan before. Does Medicare require the hospital to provide a discharge plan to me as part of my hospital stay?

– Louise (Washington, DC)

Dear Louise,

Hospital discharge planning services are intended to make your move from the hospital to your home or other location as smooth and safe as possible, and aim to prevent additional trips to the hospital for you. Under specific circumstances, Medicare does require all hospitals to provide discharge planning services as part of a hospital stay. Let’s see if those circumstances might apply to you.

Hospital discharge planning is only required if you are admitted to the hospital as an inpatient. If you are considered a hospital outpatient, Medicare does not require hospital staff to help you prepare for your care following a hospital stay. However, some states may provide you with greater rights to discharge planning services. Since you had heart valve replacement surgery, it is likely that you will be considered a hospital inpatient. Here are additional steps you can take to ensure that you leave the hospital with the plan you need.

  1. You or your doctor should ask hospital staff for a comprehensive discharge planning evaluation. A discharge planning evaluation tries to foresee your medical and other care needs after your hospital stay. Some hospitals automatically evaluate the discharge needs of all patients, and some do not. That said, if you or your doctor asks for a comprehensive discharge evaluation, the hospital must give you one. Know that the discharge evaluation is not the same as a discharge plan, but it is a necessary step for acquiring a discharge plan if you are eligible.

  2. Be aware that the hospital’s main goal during your evaluation should be to return you to the place you left before your hospital stay (this may be your home or another facility). If this isn’t possible, the hospital should recommend other, more appropriate places for you.

  3. Make sure hospital staff members consider your range of needs following your hospitalization. If you are returning home following your surgery, the discharge planning evaluation should see whether you can care for yourself or if you will need assistance from family, friends, or other community caregivers. For example, do you need home health care or meal delivery services? The hospital staff should also see whether you will need medical equipment or changes to your home to make it safe. If you are going back to a facility, the hospital must make sure the facility can still care for you after your hospital stay.

  4. Review which post-discharge services will be covered by Medicare and how much they will cost. If you have another type of insurance, such as Medicaid, check what is covered by that insurance.

  5. Tell the hospital discharge planning staff about your needs and preferences for care after your hospitalization. If you are eligible for a discharge plan, your needs and preferences must be incorporated into your plan of care.

  6. Be sure the hospital prepares you for discharge. Before you leave the hospital, staff must educate and train you, your family, and/or your caregivers about your care needs. Hospital staff should also provide a clear list of instructions for your care and all medications you will need. The hospital must explain what to do if problems occur, including who to call and when to seek emergency help. The hospital must provide referrals as appropriate for other care, including referrals to home health, skilled nursing or hospice agencies, physicians, and medical equipment suppliers, among other supportive services.

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