The importance of follow-up visits after getting discharged from the hospital

Primary care patient and provider

Patients often ask why it is important to see their healthcare providers after discharge from the hospital or emergency department visit. There are several reasons it’s a good idea.

First, there was a reason for the hospitalization or emergency visit. It’s important for primary care providers not only to know why this happened – perhaps a bad reaction to a new medication or a lifestyle change such as a new diet or exercise routine – but also what happened in the hospital. The goal is to keep patients healthy and out of the hospital, so we want to prevent whatever caused the event from happening again.

In addition, tests may have been performed in the hospital but the results were not in yet by the time of discharge. It is very important that all test results have been reviewed so that nothing was missed. For example, a biopsy might take a week or two to come back, or an uncommon blood test might need to go to a special lab. Although normal test results are reassuring, tests that come back abnormal are concerning. Sometimes this results in further work-up and a referral to a specialist. A follow-up appointment is a great opportunity to put everything together.

Another reason for a follow-up visit is to go over any potential medication changes. Many times, what led to a hospitalization or ED visit is a new medication, usually prescribed by a regular outpatient provider. That provider needs to know what happened, and to not restart that medication. New or added medications prescribed at discharge, such as blood thinners, sometimes need to be monitored as well. Many times, a dosing change is made on pre-hospital medications, which requires monitoring. This is also a great time to confirm medications are being taken correctly and not accidentally doubled up or underdosed. This process, called medication reconciliation, is for patient safety.

Finally, a discharge appointment may be to check on one or more vital signs or repeat blood work. It may be to check how someone is breathing and oxygenating if the reason for hospitalization was pneumonia, or to check blood pressure readings if there was a blood pressure issue. Perhaps the patient had a kidney or bleeding problem and needs a quick repeat blood test to see if the kidneys continue to recover or blood counts are stable. A very important checkup is blood sugars for newly diagnosed diabetics or diabetic patients with any medication changes.

In the end, most follow-up visits after discharge are just a check up to see how the patient is doing and ensure there aren’t any complications. It’s also a great time to talk to a primary care provider about anything else or ask questions, especially if it’s been a while since the last appointment.