Options in nursing: becoming a discharge planner

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A Gap Medics student brings a smile to the pediatrics ward in Tanzania If you are interested in an area of nursing that does not involve bedside patient care, you may want to consider discharge planning. In some cases, getting discharged from the hospital is as simple as getting in your car, driving home and returning to your normal routine. In other circumstances, continued care or patient needs must be considered before a patient can be discharged from the hospital. Discharge planners organize a patient’s discharge from the hospital to his or her home or alternative residence.

Discharge planner responsibilities 

Discharge planners work closely with social workers, doctors and physical and occupation therapists to determine the condition of the patient. Planners also meet with patients and their families to assess needs. Once the patient’s needs are determined, a plan is developed to coordinate services that promote the wellbeing and health of the patient as he or she leaves the hospital.

For example, depending on the patient’s condition, he or she may be unable to return home. Discharge planners work with rehabilitation centers and nursing homes in order to place patients for ongoing care. In some instances, discharge planners arrange for occupational, speech or physical therapy to be given at home. They may also order medical equipment to be used in a patient’s home.

Discharge planners work with insurance companies to coordinate coverage of ongoing medical care. They may also refer patients and their families to support services and counseling as needed.

Education needed

In order to work as a discharge planner in a healthcare facility, you need to earn your registered nursing license. Both two- and four-year RN programs are available. Passing the exam to become licensed as a registered nurse is the next step on the path to becoming a discharge planner.

Nurses are usually not hired to work in discharge planning right out of school. The work requires a strong understanding of different medical conditions and what ongoing needs may exist for patients. Nurses should gain at least a few years of experience doing bedside patient care. Whether you work in the emergency room, oncology or intensive care unit, gaining patient care experience is necessary before working in discharge planning.

Skills to be successful as a discharge planner

Discharge planners may have to coordinate several aspects of a patient’s care before the patient can be released from the hospital. Excellent organization skills are needed in order to juggle everything. Discharge planners also work with other medical professionals, hospital utilization review committees and family members. They must be team players and be able to communicate effectively with all parties involved.  

Nurses working in discharge planning often work with insurance companies to pay for patient treatment. Insurance reimbursement guidelines can be complicated. Nurses need to be very detailed oriented.  

Discharge planners must also be able to advocate for their patients, which takes leadership skills. Doctors and family members may not always be on the same page when it comes to the discharging needs of the patient. Insurance companies may not agree to pay for certain services. Discharge planners must be able to stand up for the rights of the patient and advocate for services as needed. 

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