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BACKGROUND: Discharge planning is a routine feature of health systems in many countries that aims to reduce delayed discharge from hospital, and improve the co-ordination of services following discharge from hospital and reduce the risk of hospital readmission. This is the fifth update of the original review. OBJECTIVES: To assess the effectiveness of planning the discharge of individual patients moving from hospital. SEARCH METHODS: We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase and two trials registers on 20 April 2021. We searched two other databases up to 31 March 2020. We also conducted reference checking, citation searching and contact with study authors to identify additional studies. SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised trials that compared an individualised discharge plan with routine discharge that was not tailored to individual participants. Participants were hospital inpatients. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently undertook data analysis and quality assessment using a pre-designed data extraction sheet. We grouped studies by older people with a medical condition, people recovering from surgery, and studies that recruited participants with a mix of conditions. We calculated risk ratios (RRs) for dichotomous outcomes and mean differences (MDs) for continuous data using fixed-effect meta-analysis. When combining outcome data it was not possible because of differences in the reporting of outcomes, we summarised the reported results for each trial in the text. MAIN RESULTS: We included 33 trials (12,242 participants), four new trials included in this update. The majority of trials (N = 30) recruited participants with a medical diagnosis, average age range 60 to 84 years; four of these trials also recruited participants who were in hospital for a surgical procedure. Participants allocated to discharge planning and who were in hospital for a medical condition had a small reduction in the initial hospital length of stay (MD - 0.73, 95% confidence interval (CI) - 1.33 to - 0.12; 11 trials, 2113 participants; moderate-certainty evidence), and a relative reduction in readmission to hospital over an average of three months follow-up (RR 0.89, 95% CI 0.81 to 0.97; 17 trials, 5126 participants; moderate-certainty evidence). There was little or no difference in participant's health status (mortality at three- to nine-month follow-up: RR 1.05, 95% CI 0.85 to 1.29; 8 trials, 2721 participants; moderate certainty) functional status and psychological health measured by a range of measures, 12 studies, 2927 participants;  low certainty evidence). There was some evidence that satisfaction might be increased for patients (7 trials), caregivers (1 trial) or healthcare professionals (2 trials) (very low certainty evidence). The cost of a structured discharge plan compared with routine discharge is uncertain (7 trials recruiting 7873 participants with a medical condition; very low certainty evidence). AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: A structured discharge plan that is tailored to the individual patient probably brings about a small reduction in the initial hospital length of stay and readmissions to hospital for older people with a medical condition, may slightly increase patient satisfaction with healthcare received. The impact on patient health status and healthcare resource use or cost to the health service is uncertain.

Original publication




Journal article


Cochrane Database Syst Rev

Publication Date





Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Hospitals, Humans, Length of Stay, Middle Aged, Patient Discharge, Patient Readmission, Patient Satisfaction, Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic