In certain circumstances, patients may request to leave prior to completion of their medical evaluation and treatment. In this situation, it is essential for the last health care professional caring for the patient to document clearly why the patient left and attested that the patient had the mental capacity to make such a decision at that time (Henry, 2013). While some electronic documentation systems have templates in place to assist with this documentation, Table 2 provides basic information for against medical advice (AMA) discharge documentation that can be used to create a uniform template (Henry, 2013; Siff, 2011; Levy, 2012; Devitt, 2000).
What to do?
Interventions in the ED Discharge Process
|Delivery||Verbal instructions (language and culture appropriate)
Written instructions (literary levels)
Basic Instructions (including return precautions)
Media, visual cues or adjuncts
|Comprehension||Confirm comprehension (teach-back method)|
|Implementation||Resource connections (Rx, appointment, durable medical supplies, follow-up)
An attempt should be made to provide the patient with appropriate discharge instructions, even if a complete diagnosis may not yet be determined. Include advice for the patient to follow up with his physician, strict return precautions, and concerning symptoms that should prompt the patient to seek further care. It should also be made clear that leaving against medical advice does not prevent the patient from returning to the emergency department for further evaluation if his symptoms worsen, or if he changes his mind. Despite a common notion to the contrary, simply leaving against medical advice does not automatically imply that physicians are immune to potential medical liability (Levy, 2012; Devitt, 2000). If a patient lacks decision-making capacity to be able to adequately understand the rationale and consequences of leaving AMA and his condition places him at risk for imminent harm, involuntary hospitalization is warranted. In unclear circumstances and if available, psychiatry can assist in determining capacity, especially in the case of patients with mental health conditions.
Elopement is a similar process where patients disappear during the care process. While it is difficult to provide discharge paperwork for these patients, documenting the actions taken to find the patient is essential (e.g., searching the ED, having security check the surrounding areas). In addition, attempt to reach the patient by phone to discuss his elopement and any additional care issues or concerns. Documentation of these attempts or any additional conversation is very important (Henry, 2013; Siff, 2011).
To Know More About It?
- Brooten J, Nicks B. Discharge Communications. In: Cevik AA, Quek LS, Noureldin A, Cakal ED (eds) iEmergency Medicine for Medical Students and Interns – 2018. Retrieved February 27, 2019, from https://iem-student.org/discharge-communications/
- Henry GL, Gupta G. (2013). Medical-Legal Issues in Emergency Medicine. In Adams (Ed.), Emergency Medicine Clinical Essentials, 2nd Ed; 1759-65. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier.
- Siff JE. (2011). Legal Issues in Emergency Medicine. In Tintinalli’s (Ed.), Emergency Medicine, 7th Ed; 2021-31. McGraw-Hill.
- Levy F, Mareiniss DP, Lacovelli C. The Importance of a Proper Against-Medical-Advice (AMA) Discharge. How Signing Out AMA May Create Significant Liability Protection for Providers. J Emerg Med. 2012;43(3):516-520.
- Devitt PJ, Devitt AC, Dewan M. An examination of whether discharging patients against medical advice protects physicians from malpractice charges. Psychiatr Serv. 2000;51:899-902.