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A discharge planner helps plan, organize and facilitate an inpatient's release from a hospital to his home or an alternative residence. Most discharge planners work as part of an acute care hospital's utilization review staff — the department that is responsible for justifying the medical need for a patient's continued stay to the appropriate insurance carrier from admission until discharge. In the US, hospitals are required by law to have a department devoted to discharge planning. This career requires both medical knowledge and social worker skills and has two primary means of entry — social work or nursing — depending upon the facility. Most individuals complete the minimum of a bachelor's degree in social work or nursing to become a discharge planner.
A bachelor's degree in social work or nursing is the minimal educational preparation required to become a discharge planner. Students with this career in mind should anticipate investing a minimum of three to four years to complete his degree requirements. Some hospitals require a greater degree of preparation in the form of a master's degree in social work (MSW) to become a discharge planner. A licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) has successfully completed a MSW, supervised clinical social worker practice hours and a licensure examination as required by all US states. Significant investments of time, tuition, study and clinical experience may be required to become a discharge planner.
Some nurses also work as discharge planners. A registered nurse (RN) will usually become a discharge planner by working in his facility's utilization review department and obtaining insurance companies' approvals of patients' inpatient stays. A utilization review RN or medical case management RN is usually the staff member most acquainted with a patient's conditions and discharge needs, having evaluated the patient daily and communicated this information to the patient's health insurance carrier. The process to become a discharge planner via this route requires successful completion of nursing school and state licensure in the US. A minimum length of actual clinical nursing experience, such as a year, may also be necessary.
Discharge planning is usually conducted in a fast-paced environment and among sometimes-conflicting goals of the parties involved. Insurance company time limits may place considerable pressure on institutions to discharge patients within the reimbursement period. At times, the physician may feel that the treatment time covered by insurance is not sufficient, and the patient is not medically ready for discharge. Often, families or patients need the reassurance of home health care beginning the day of discharge. For all of these reasons, good communication skills and attention to detail are absolutely necessary for anyone who wishes to become a discharge planner.