Discharge communication study: a realist evaluation of discharge communication experiences of patients, general practitioners and hospital practitioners, alongside a corresponding discharge letter sample

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Katharine Weetman
  • Jeremy Dale
  • Emma Scott
  • Stephanie Schnurr

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • University of Warwick


To develop a programme theory for the intervention of patients receiving discharge letters.

We used a realist evaluation approach and captured multiple perspectives of hospital discharge to refine our previously developed programme theory. General practitioner (GP), patient and hospital clinician views of a single discharge event in which they were all involved were collected using semi-structured interviews and surveys. These were then triangulated to match the corresponding discharge letter. Data were qualitatively synthesised and compared in meta-matrices before interrogation with realist logic of analysis to develop the programme theory that maps out how patients receiving discharge letters works in specific contexts.

14 GP practices and four hospital trusts in West Midlands, UK.

10 complete matched cases (GP, patient and hospital practitioner), and a further 26 cases in which a letter was matched with two out of the three participants.

We identified seven context mechanism outcome configurations not found through literature searching. These related to the broad concepts of: patient preference for receiving letters, patient comprehension of letters, patient-directed letters, patient harm and clinician views on patients receiving letters. ‘Patient choice’ was important to the success (or not) of the intervention. Other important contexts for positive effects included: letters written in plain English, lay explanations for jargon, verbal information also provided, no new information in letter and patient choice acknowledged. Three key findings were: patient understanding is perhaps greater than clinicians perceive, clinician attitudes are a barrier to patients receiving letters and that, negative outcomes more commonly manifested when patients had not received letters, rather than when they had.

We suggest how patients receiving discharge letters could be improved to enhance patient outcomes. Our programme theory has potential for use in different healthcare contexts and as a framework for policy development relating to patient discharge.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere045465
JournalBMJ open
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2021