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Many Discharged Patients Do Not Know Diagnoses, Medications, Side Effects

August 16, 2005
Mayo Clinic
Researchers report in the current issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings that more than one-half of their study patients were unable to list their medications, diagnoses, treatment plan (names and purposes of medications) and common side effects of prescribed medications.

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Researchers report in the current issue of MayoClinic Proceedings that more than one-half of their study patients wereunable to list their medications, diagnoses, treatment plan (names andpurposes of medications) and common side effects of prescribedmedications.

The findings are concerning to physicians because failure ofpatients to follow treatment plans or understand the requirements afterleaving their care could result in readmission to the hospital withcompounding health problems and additional health care costs.

Patients are responsible to follow treatment plans, butcommunication from physicians and health care teams needs to improve tomeet the patient's needs, say the study's authors.

The study in the August 2005 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings by AmgadMakaryus, M.D., of the Department of Medicine, North Shore UniversityHospital in Manhasset, N.Y., and Eli Friedman, M.D., of the Departmentof Medicine, State University of New York, Health Science Center inBrooklyn, N.Y., set out to determine whether patients at the time ofdischarge from a municipal teaching hospital knew their dischargediagnoses, treatment plan, and common side effects of prescribedmedications. They studied 43 patients from July to October 1999.

The authors report that 72 percent of the patients were not able tolist the names of all of their medications, however, more could statethe purpose of their medications. And about 58 percent of the patientswere unable to recount their diagnosis or diagnoses.

"All methods that enhance the patient's understanding of his or herdischarge treatment plan focus on one central aspect -- propercommunication," says Dr. Friedman. "Although not all patients arenoncompliant because of poor communication, this is probably theleading cause of noncompliance."

Dr. Friedman notes that communication involves many aspects, includinglanguage (speaking to the patient in terms the patient understands),practicality (giving the patient a regimen that can be followed withoutmuch disruption to daily life) and time (spending reasonable timecounseling the patient and ensuring that the patient actuallycomprehends the instructions).

"Without willingness of the health care team to devote time tocommunication, the careful and effective treatment that was deliveredin the hospital may not continue after discharge because of patientnoncompliance," says Dr. Friedman.

However, the authors recommend that further study take place to fullyascertain the effects of the problem their study has identified."Whether lack of communication between physician and patient isactually the cause of patient unawareness of discharge instructions orif this even affects patient outcome requires further study," says Dr.Friedman.

In an editorial in the same issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Edward Rosenow III, M.D., ofMayo Clinic's Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, concurs and offers some suggestions.

"I collectively refer to the issues contributing to misunderstandingand medication noncompliance as the sixth vital sign because in manyways they are as important as the well-known four vital signs and thenew fifth vital sign of pain," says Dr. Rosenow. "An impaired sixthvital sign can result in setbacks and readmissions to the hospital aseasily as the other five signs." Dr. Rosenow offers 11 ideas forimproving aftercare:

  • Educating patients and the public about the importance of compliance should begin in primary school.
  • With a new diagnosis, the patient and family could be given information, written at their education level, about the disease or condition. Good online sources such as or offer further, reliable information.
  • A plan to stratify the patient's likelihood of compliance or noncompliance should be considered. He lists considerations such as age, education, command of English, the number of medications being taken and other medical conditions.
  • Medical centers should convene continuous improvement committees to establish a uniform approach to the problem at the medical center.
  • Health educators at medical centers need to be part of the health team. They also need to be multilingual.
  • Knowledge of the cultural mores of most ethnic groups must be part of the context of the patient's outpatient and inpatient dismissal plan.
  • Physicians should consider directly observed therapy and can involve highly motivated educated volunteers to assist.
  • A discharge summary written directly for the hospitalized patient should be in a language the patient can understand.
  • Focus groups are effective for some patients with a chronic illness.
  • A video compact disk with a description of each drug the patient is taking could be provided and updated at each visit. It would show what the drug looks like and explain its purposes and benefits, and would contain a reminder of the importance of compliance.
  • Better prescription-container labeling -- larger containers are needed to allow for a larger label in big print.


A peer-review journal, Mayo ClinicProceedings publishes original articles and reviews dealing withclinical and laboratory medicine, clinical research, basic scienceresearch and clinical epidemiology. Mayo Clinic Proceedings ispublished monthly by Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Researchas part of its commitment to the medical education of physicians. Thejournal has been published for more than 75 years and has a circulationof 130,000 nationally and internationally. Copies of the articles areavailable online at

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Mayo Clinic. "Many Discharged Patients Do Not Know Diagnoses, Medications, Side Effects." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 August 2005. <>.
Mayo Clinic. (2005, August 16). Many Discharged Patients Do Not Know Diagnoses, Medications, Side Effects. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 26, 2017 from
Mayo Clinic. "Many Discharged Patients Do Not Know Diagnoses, Medications, Side Effects." ScienceDaily. (accessed April 26, 2017).