GP perspectives on hospital discharge letters: an interview and focus group study

Katharine Weetman, Jeremy Dale, Rachel Spencer, Emma Scott, Stephanie Schnurr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
178 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Written discharge communication following inpatient or outpatient clinic discharge is essential for communicating information to the GP, but GPs’ opinions on discharge communication are seldom sought. Patients are sometimes copied into this communication, but the reasons for this variation, and the resultant effects, remain unclear.
Aim: To explore GP perspectives on how discharge letters can be improved in order to enhance patient outcomes.
Design & setting: The study used narrative interviews with 26 GPs from 13 GP practices within the West Midlands, England.Method Interviews were transcribed and data were analysed using corpus linguistics (CL) techniques.
Results: Elements pivotal to a successful letter were: diagnosis, appropriate follow-up plan, medication changes and reasons, clinical summary, investigations and/or procedures and outcomes, and what information has been given to the patient. GPs supported patients receiving discharge letters and expounded a number of benefits of this practice; for example, increased patient autonomy. Nevertheless, GPs felt that if patients are to receive direct discharge letter copies, modifications such as use of lay language and avoidance of acronyms may be required to increase patient understanding.
Conclusion: GPs reported that discharge letters frequently lacked content items they assessed to be important; GPs highlighted that this can have subsequent ramifications on resources and patient experiences. Templates should be devised that put discharge letter elements assessed to be important by GPs to the forefront. Future research needs to consider other perspectives on letter content, particularly those of patients.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberbjgpopen20X101031
JournalBJGP Open
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 12 May 2020


  • communication
  • copy letters
  • discharge summaries
  • doctor and patient communication
  • general practitioners
  • hospital discharge
  • patient discharge
  • primary care


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