A discharge planner is a core member of a hospital patient's care-facilitation team. Working with the attending physician, specialists and bedside nurses, the discharge planner helps to coordinate the patient's transition to life after the hospital -- often working with nursing homes, medical-equipment providers and insurance companies to seamlessly facilitate a patient's move to the next level of care.
Discharge planners work closely with physicians, bedside nurses, utilization-management specialists and associated clinical professionals to help patients in an acute setting -- either a hospital or another inpatient facility -- transition to a lower level of care. In practice, the discharge planner helps to remove barriers to the patient's timely discharge from a hospital or long-term acute-care environment. Discharge planners are often called upon to resolve clinical, psychosocial and financial barriers on the patient's behalf.
Discharge planners often join the daily rounds with the medical staff. In addition to rounding with physicians, the discharge planners will meet with patients and families to discuss placement options into nursing homes or assisted-care facilities. They help organize medical records for transmittal to a rehab facility, provide advice on which durable medical equipment is most useful and negotiate with insurance companies. Sometimes, a discharge planner will overcome minor barriers, such as a lack of transportation from the hospital to home.
Most discharge planners are registered nurses or medical social workers. Larger hospitals require a minimum of a bachelor's degree in nursing or a master's degree in social work. Many discharge planners are members of professional organizations, including the American Case Management Association. Most hiring managers prefer candidates with a minimum of five years experience with direct patient care.
Skills and Experience
A good discharge planner needs to be highly organized, empathetic and capable of multitasking in a high-stress biomedical environment. Because families are often strained during hospitalizations, a good discharge planner will know how to handle difficult situations in a way that promotes the best outcomes for the patient while reducing the facility's overall cost-to-care. In departments with a mix of nurses and social workers, a nurse may be assigned to deal with medically complex discharges such as a major burn case while social workers often get routine discharges or cases with financial or social barriers, such as a low-income patient who does not speak English.
Discharge planners in organized case-management departments usually make several dollars per hour more than the prevailing rate for a normal bedside nurse. Social workers tend to earn less than nurses for doing essentially the same work, because of the difference in clinical experience.
The medical field is growing and is considered largely recession-proof, especially in hospitals. As more facilities find ways to reduce costs, the contribution of discharge planners can improve a hospital's bottom line -- making this field an attractive one for those who are qualified.