Background The 2004 NHS plan states that parents should receive copies of correspondence about their child. A literature review suggests doctors are inadequately trained to write such correspondence. While there are studies about clinic letters none relate to parental opinions on discharge summaries.
Aim To assess parental opinions on the usefulness and quality of ward discharge summaries written by junior doctors.
Method 70 parents were sent questionnaires following their child's hospital admission. The questionnaire asked whether parents received a letter and if not whether they would have liked one. They were asked if they read the letter, if their understanding of their child's condition changed after reading the letter and questions about the quality of the letter.
Results 35/70 were returned of which one was incomplete. Out of 12 who did not receive a letter 11 felt it would be useful and were clear on what they wanted. “I couldn't remember what was said”, “only if useful in future medical situations”, “would be good to have advice in writing”. Of the 22 patients who received a letter all read it, 15 more than once and many showed it to others including partners, children, grandparents and health visitors. The majority understood most or all of it, but six parents thought it was too brief, two felt it was inaccurate, seven felt investigation results were not clear and three said it contained information they had not previously heard. The majority felt the letter did not improve nor worsen their understanding of their child's diagnosis, treatment or follow-up.
Free text comments varied.
“good to be kept fully informed”, “too brief”, “took too long to come”, “didn't say anything we hadn't been told already”.
Conclusion Parents appreciate receiving discharge letters, reading them more than once and showing them to others. However, current discharge letters do not generally improve their understanding and important inaccuracies and mistakes are being made. Parents who did not receive letters felt they would be useful and were clear about what they wanted. It is vital that junior doctors understand how important and useful discharge letters are to parents. Education of junior doctors on written communication with parents and the issues involved is increasingly important.