Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 393–398 | Cite as

Pending Laboratory Tests and the Hospital Discharge Summary in Patients Discharged To Sub-Acute Care

  • Stacy E. WalzEmail author
  • Maureen Smith
  • Elizabeth Cox
  • Justin Sattin
  • Amy J. H. Kind
Original Research



Previous studies have noted a high (41%) prevalence and poor discharge summary communication of pending laboratory (lab) tests at the time of hospital discharge for general medical patients. However, the prevalence and communication of pending labs within a high-risk population, specifically those patients discharged to sub-acute care (i.e., skilled nursing, rehabilitation, long-term care), remains unknown.


To determine the prevalence and nature of lab tests pending at hospital discharge and their inclusion within hospital discharge summaries, for common sub-acute care populations.


Retrospective cohort study.


Stroke, hip fracture, and cancer patients discharged from a single large academic medical center to sub-acute care, 2003–2005 (N = 564)

Main Measures

Pending lab tests were abstracted from the laboratory information system (LIS) and from each patient’s discharge summary, then grouped into 14 categories and compared. Microbiology tests were sub-divided by culture type and number of days pending prior to discharge.

Key Results

Of sub-acute care patients, 32% (181/564) were discharged with pending lab tests per the LIS; however, only 11% (20/181) of discharge summaries documented these. Patients most often left the hospital with pending microbiology tests (83% [150/181]), particularly blood and urine cultures, and reference lab tests (17% [30/181]). However, 82% (61/74) of patients’ pending urine cultures did not have 24-hour preliminary results, and 19% (13/70) of patients’ pending blood cultures did not have 48-hour preliminary results available at the time of hospital discharge.


Approximately one-third of the sub-acute care patients in this study had labs pending at discharge, but few were documented within hospital discharge summaries. Even after considering the availability of preliminary microbiology results, these omissions remain common. Future studies should focus on improving the communication of pending lab tests at discharge and evaluating the impact that this improved communication has on patient outcomes.


laboratory tests hospital discharge sub-acute care 



The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions of key people who helped make this project a success: Patty Horstmeier, Donald Wiebe, Wen-Jan Tuan, Patrick Ferguson and Peggy Munson.

Funding for this project was provided by the University of Wisconsin (UW) Hartford Center of Excellence in Geriatrics and the UW Health Innovation Program. Dr. Kind is supported by a K-L2 through the NIH grant 1KL2RR025012-01 [Institutional Clinical and Translational Science Award (UW-Madison) 1UL1RR025011 (KL2) program of the National Center for Research Resources, National Institute of Health]. Additional support was provided by the Health Innovation Program and the Community-Academic Partnerships core of the University of Wisconsin Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (UW ICTR), grant 1UL1RR025011 from the Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) program of the National Center for Research Resources, National Institutes of Health. The project described was supported by Award Number K23AG034551 from the National Institute on Aging. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute on Aging or the National Institutes of Health.

We presented an earlier version of the manuscript as a poster at the American Geriatrics Society Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida, in May 2010.

Conflicts of Interest

None disclosed.


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stacy E. Walz
    • 1
    Email author
  • Maureen Smith
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Elizabeth Cox
    • 4
  • Justin Sattin
    • 5
  • Amy J. H. Kind
    • 1
    • 6
    • 7
  1. 1.Department of Population Health SciencesUniversity of Wisconsin School of Medicine & Public HealthMadisonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Family MedicineUniversity of Wisconsin School of Medicine & Public HealthMadisonUSA
  3. 3.Department of SurgeryUniversity of Wisconsin School of Medicine & Public HealthMadisonUSA
  4. 4.Department of PediatricsUniversity of Wisconsin School of Medicine & Public HealthMadisonUSA
  5. 5.Department of NeurologyUniversity of Wisconsin School of Medicine & Public HealthMadisonUSA
  6. 6.Department of Medicine, Geriatrics DivisionUniversity of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public HealthMadisonUSA
  7. 7.United States Department of Veterans AffairsWilliam S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital, Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center (GRECC)MadisonUSA

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